Celebrate Your Poor Soil With a Mediterranean Herb Garden

May 23, 2014 by

CU garden 300 Stuy crop Mediterranean herbs growing among annual Salvias and Marigolds. Photo by Nicole Brait.

If you have nutrient poor soil don’t despair, you have the beginnings of a great Mediterranean herb garden.

Not only do Mediterranean herbs thrive in nutrient poor soils, they are drought tolerant, they don’t require much maintenance, most are perennial and they are flavorful and aromatic.

Some of the most common Mediterranean herbs are rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage, all of which like the same growing conditions; full sun, sandy well draining soil, good circulation and a neutral pH. (For more about soil Ph read the Royal Horticulture Society’s explanation here.)

Here are four Mediterranean herbs you can grow in even the sandiest soil. And if you don’t have sandy soil don’t worry. You can always amend your soil with some builder’s sand or plant in containers.

Rosemary Kostas Katagas Rosemary in bloom. Photo by Kostas Katagas.

1. Rosemary
Hardy to zones 6, 7 or 8, depending on the variety, and evergreen in zones 8 and warmer, rosemary is a must in the Mediterranean herb garden with it’s musky scent and needle-like foliage. In colder areas, choose a hardier variety such as ‘Arp’, or grow rosemary in a container to bring indoors in the winter. There are shrub varieties of rosemary and creeping varieties that look great spilling out of a container or over a wall. ‘Tuscan Blue’ is a nice shrub variety that grows to 7 ft. If you want a more prostrate plant try the variety ‘Prostratus’ which can spread as much as 8 ft.

Thyme Estelle Broyer Thyme Photo by Estelle Broyer

2. Thyme
There are lots of varieties of thyme and I recommend growing more than one. If you want to get the best flavor from your thyme grow the species, Thymus vulgaris or Thymus citriodorus, both widely available. Thymus herba-barona, known as caraway thyme, is touted by cooks as the best culinary thyme. Unfortunately it can be hard to locate. If you are looking for a more ornamental variety go for a Thymus praecox. Better yet go for two with different bloom times to lengthen thyme’s ornamental display in your garden. If you live in a climate that doesn’t get too humid try Thymus pseudolanuginosus or wooly thyme. It isn’t edible but has wonderful soft foliage that just begs to be touched. If you live in a humid climate skip this one as it tends to die out by mid-July.

Oregano John and Anni Winings Oregano Photo by John and Anni Winings

3. Oregano
Evergreen in zone 8 and warmer, oregano has a robust scent and taste. Its trailing habit makes it a good ground cover or spiller for containers. Most oregano varietals are rated for zone 5, but I overwintered oregano when I lived in zone 4 Idaho with a generous amount of mulch. If you want a good culinary variety skip the common Origanum vulgare and go for a variety like ‘Bristol Cross’ which has a mild aroma and flavor. If you are looking for something a little more ornamental try the ‘Golden’ variety which has yellow-green leaves. If you are looking strictly for ornamental value try ‘Kent Beauty’ which is one of the few non-edible herbs I’ve grown in my garden.

Sage CU  camknows Sage Photo by camknows

4. Sage
A low shrub with velvety foliage and a distinct aroma sage is wonderful in the garden. Perennial in zones 4-8, you will most likely have to grow sage as an annual in warmer zones as it does not do well with extreme heat or humidity. Dry, sunny areas are ideal for sage but I grew it in my rather humid Brooklyn garden for years. Culinary sage blooms in late spring to early summer but if you are growing it for the leaves, pinch out the blooms to encourage the growth of more foliage and prune plants in early spring to promote new growth. Try a purple or tri-colored variety for extra ornamental value.

Don’t let poor soil get you down. Mediterranean herbs are on your side. Let us know your favorites!

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