Recently, I had a conversation with a fellow GardenComm member who lives in the dry climate of Arizona. We were talking about drought tolerant plants for the garden. I said I tend to use herbs when I need drought tolerant plants in my garden. Many herbs–culinary, medicinal, or otherwise–make great landscape plants.
Coincidently that same weekend, I visited the Loudoun County Master Gardeners’ demonstration garden in Leesburg. I highly recommend visiting this garden, which is free and open to the public. There are several mini-gardens designed to demonstrate a particular characteristic such as the drought tolerant garden. I, of course, looked for herbs and found yarrow, hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), catmint (Nepeta), and winter savory (Satureja montana).
You don’t think of Virginia has having to need drought tolerant plants, but we do have dry stretches in the summer. In addition, my garden has dry areas, particularly under the roof eaves where rainwater cannot enter the narrow, sheltered space.
For this area, I have several 6-year-old bushes of ‘Phenomenal’ lavender to the right of the front door. These bloom reliably every summer; the bees love the purple flowers. Nearby is a 5-foot-tall fennel plant that supports beneficial insects and pollinators.
To the left of the door, I have low growing lemon thyme and 2-foot-tall curry plants which are gray with small yellow flowers (Helichrysum italicum).
Throughout the garden, I have various drought-tolerant herbs. We have been on this property for more than 20 years and I am struck by how many of my herbs are old, yet they still perform well. My 13-year-old oregano and knot marjoram plants still bloom every summer, surrounded by bees and beneficial insects. The 10-year-old, 4-feet-tall Rosemary ‘Arp’ blooms lavender colored flowers in the winter. Now it often blooms when the azaleas are blooming. The 10-year-old, 3-feet-tall tansy has small yellow flowers now. The 7-year-old English thyme serves as a groundcover in the front of the house. The 3-year-old germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) is blooming small lavender blossoms now. This can serve as a small hedge in place of boxwood.
I have a penchant for the “flavored” thyme plants so I have 3-year-old rose thyme and 2-year-old lemon, nutmeg, and Pennsylvania Dutch thyme plants. All are great groundcovers and can be used in the kitchen. My 2-year-old sage (Salvia officinalis) blooms in the spring and my 2-year-old, 3-foot-tall silver artemisia (Artemisia absinthium) is just now beginning to bloom.
I am really impressed with my 2-year-old santolina (Santolina rosmarinifolius). This is the green foliage type which not only has thrived but bloomed many yellow pom poms type flowers in the late spring/early summer. I highly recommend this for any garden.
My 2-year-old winter savory is still only a foot tall but this is a perennial that has just started to bloom small white flowers.
The 1-year-old horehound (Marrubium vulgare) was very easy to start from seed last year. In fact, it seemed all the seed germinated quickly so I ended up with quite a few plants. They have already bloomed which have resulted in fascinating Dr. Seuss type seedheads.
I have yarrow throughout the garden in various flower colors. I used to grow rue which is a pretty plant with yellow flowers but you have to be careful about touching it as it can cause a skin irritation.
Because these plants are drought tolerant, once they are established, I do not have to worry about watering them with a hose and I don’t worry about fertilizing either. I may deadhead – especially the lavender and santolina – but for the most part they don’t require much attention.
Of course, this is only a sample, there are plenty more drought tolerant herbs and I always keep an eye out for them at the local garden centers. If you have had success with any, please let me know by commenting below and maybe I will add them to the garden.