October 19th, 2009
Herb Garden

herb garden
2009-10-19. The herb garden: parsley, sage, basil, Mexican mint marigold (Texas tarragon), and lavender. The rosemary and thyme are elsewhere. The cilantro, everywhere.

I have a terrible time designing my gardens on paper. My garden practice is more opportunistic. I didn’t start with a blank slate; this yard had been here 50 years before I took a shovel to it. So, typically, I arrange the garden by walking around and seeing empty spots waiting for plants–often with said plant in hand.

Once a Tecoma stans and a beautiful David Austin rose ‘Heritage’ grew here. Then the trees grew up and shaded this spot and they died. Then I cut down the trees (invasive chinaberry). Faced with a blank spot which gets lots of summer sun, I decided it was time to make a dedicated herb garden.

AJM is the resident cook and he likes to use fresh herbs. Fortunately many herbs thrive in Texas even as other plants are croaking. Most herbs like our poor soil, drought, sun, and heat. If just having plants that like Texas weren’t enough, fresh herbs are expensive to buy but cheap to grow. Every time I “weed” a handful of self-sown cilantro out of the paths and beds I think, “That would cost me 50 cents at Central Market” and into the fridge those “weeds” go.

Herbs require good drainage so I worked in several bags (about six inches) of Natural Gardener garden soil. I was inspired by the circular beds at Rock Rose. I didn’t have any bricks so I used pieces of wood from the failed garden house.

I started with some lavender that I’d grown from cuttings. I bought a 4-inch pot of culinary sage. It grew so well that I took cuttings from it and now have five plants. Last fall, I started some curly parsley from seed. It grew as well as the cilantro over the cooler months but was much more heat-tolerant. Some of it survived the summer and is growing well again now that it is cool. In the spring, I bought several fine-leaved basil plants and a couple of Genovese basil plants. The latter have self-sown and I’m potting up the new seedlings hoping to overwinter them indoors and plant them out next spring.

I tried some French tarragon which several people said won’t grow here. They were right. However, Annie @ The Transplantable Rose consoled me with some Mexican mint marigold, aka Texas tarragon, which began blooming this month.

This weekend I finally moved some bearded iris that had edged part of the herb garden, planted out an asparagus fern that had been in the pot I’d been wanting to put in the center of the bed, and decided that the sotol that I bought on impulse at the Wildflower Garden sale would look perfect in that pot–even if, botanically, it is not an herb.

No. I could never have designed my herb garden. It had to evolve.

by M Sinclair Stevens

9 Responses to post “Herb Garden”

  1. From Laura:

    Your herb bed looks great to have “evolved”. When my husband & I bought this plot of land sans house, we got out our measuring tape and graph paper and plotted & schemed.–This would go there, and that would go here.

    However, once we lived on the lot, everything changed and evolved just as it has with you. Plants died and our needs and tastes changed.

    I’m actually glad we didn’t do everything we’d planned on paper.

    I have to walk around a place to get a feel for it. Unless it is a flat, treeless spot, I can’t translate a 2-dimensional design to the four dimensions of the garden (the fourth, being time).

  2. From Annie in Austin:

    Wouldn’t it be cool to see a time lapse video of your yard over the past 50 years as the sun/shade patterns changed and trees grew tall and then disappeared? We’ve only been here 5 years but have already had much to redo and I sure wonder what previous owners have done.

    The herb garden looks good, MSS, as well it should with all the good soil and structure added by wood and pots. The striking Dasylirion wheeleri/Sotol may not be an herb, but it’s essential to making the liquor called Sotol…good enough reason to plant it there, right?

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    I thought I’d read that somewhere about sotol liquor. Well, that’s medicinal, isn’t it? — mss

  3. From Deb Wilson - Austin:

    Even when I do make plans nature always seems to have other ideas in mind. Add in to that weird weather, deer, birds and squirrel “helpers”, and yes, evolving is the perfect term for the result. I like your round bed – been keeping an eye out for a spot around here for one. With your photos as visual aid maybe I can make headway with The Hub now. Thank you!

    It’s exactly the same way here. I have a draft of a blog post entitled, “I Have Plans for My Garden but It Doesn’t Listen”. The longer I garden the easier it becomes for me to let go. The garden is going to keep changing. Plants die. Our interests change. I think this is what really attracts me to gardening. — mss

  4. From Linda Lehmusvirta Austin, TX:

    That looks so very perfect! Maybe we’re so surprised about evolving gardens because of all the books of formal knot gardens and such and we forget that the evolution is really the fun part.

    I really like the idea of gardening as discovery. I think my favorite part of the garden day is going out each morning to see what’s new. I’m looking forward to comparing the photo you took of the herb garden in April to how it looks now. — mss

  5. From angelina:

    You already know how much I love growing herbs. I love your herb garden! It’s so much prettier than mine is right now. The monastery style garden is really pretty but full of vegetables and weeds right now. I’ve just started establishing actual herbs in it.

    Does the Mexican Mint Marigold work well in the same kinds of recipes in which you would normally use tarragon? Like a quiche, for example? I think I may have seen this at the nursery here last year.

    French tarragon has a much more delicate flavor and I think is preferable for cooking. AJM uses it in a poached salmon recipe and the Mexican mint marigold–even when used in smaller quantities–is more bitter and intensely flavored. (We compared them in a side-by-side taste test.) You live in the perfect climate for growing French tarragon. Lucky you! — mss

  6. From M2:

    Oh, I like that a lot. I’ve grown herbs, but never had a plot that looked as lovely as that.

    I find that herbs do a lot better in the ground than in pots, even up here. I can’t believe that my mint didn’t live. I should have put it in the ground, maybe.

    We have thyme in a pot. I failed with it three times until I bought a proper herb pot for it (tall and skinny). Thyme requires very good drainage…it can’t stand to be in an over-watered pot. Mint should do well in your cool, damp ground. If you dare plant it in the ground, it will probably take over. — mss

  7. From Jenny Austin:

    I like your edging. It looks crisp and clean. If i just had the tiniest spot to grow plants it would be the herbs. I use them every single day. Like you say they always look good, although I have had problems with the culinary sage. I can grow the Berggarten but not he regular old sage. I didn’t realize the cilantro would self seed so I am thrilled to find it popping up everywhere this year.

    Well, your garden was the inspiration for the edging. I hope someday to upgrade to brick and make it really neat. Right now I’m still trying to get it even and in a proper circle. These things take time. — mss

  8. From Jenny Austin:

    We got our brick from Habitat for Humanity. They often have left over brick there and you get a really good deal. If you haven’t already tried this the best way to get the circle is to take a piece of string, fasten a stick or piece of rebar to one end. and attach another stick to the other end at the desired radius. Then when you have the center of the garden just scribe around. It works very well.

  9. From Grasshopper:

    This garden looks great! Especially using your resources wisely. We started with planting herbs through container gardening on October and we’re hoping to plant more herbs.