The Dry Herb Garden

Plant a water-wise herb garden in arid climates and heat-baked locations.


| August/September 1997



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The varied shapes and textures of society garlic, salvias, artemisias, and German statice intermingle for a pleasing dryland garden scene.


Photography by Rob Proctor

From a window seat on a New York to Los Angeles flight, one can watch the colors of the land change. As you fly across the Great Plains, lush green forests and fields give way to paler shades of green and tawny gold, and finally to muted tones of sage, gray, buff, and beige.

The western landscape, with its extraordinary geographic features, often bakes under a rainless sky. Its plant life, however, is supremely adapted to the mineral-rich but humus-poor soil, dry air, summer heat, and winter cold. Transplanting an East Coast herb garden vision to the West takes water—an increasingly precious commodity, which limits the plants that can be grown well. But many stalwart herbs and ornamental perennials revel in the heat and drought or at least adapt well to these conditions.

Western gardens can draw from a broad palette of plants that reflect the colors of the native landscape—shimmering silver, dusty blue, sage green, russet brown, and sun-bleached yellow. Dryland herbs need not be planted in Death Valley fashion, with yards of gravel between each plant (and a wagon wheel or steer skull for emphasis). An herb garden that receives little or no supplemental irrigation can be a thing of beauty—full and lavish, teeming with texture, color, scent, and variety.

Dryland gardeners have learned to incorporate compatible herbs that echo the beauty of the natural surroundings. Some are native while others originate in lands with similar climates, such as the Mediterranean region, Central Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, South Africa, and the west coast of South America.

The need for water-wise plantings is not limited to the arid lands of the West. An estimated 50 percent of a homeowner’s water goes toward landscape maintenance. Within the past decade, many parts of the country have experienced prolonged droughts and water restrictions.

The goal of a water-wise garden isn’t no-water plantings. All dryland plant­ings need to be watered the first year, but once they are established, many herbs will thrive on only 2 inches of water each month, and some require only half that much. Let us walk you through our garden in Denver, Colorado, and point out some of our favorite dryland herbs and flowers.





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