Woody herbs are all perennials and usually hardy plants with leaves, blossoms and woody stems that contain their essential oils. Their relatively high content of volatile oils gives them an extremely aromatic fragrance. Woody herbs retain more of their flavor and aroma when dried than most green herbs do. In the garden, woody herbs require far less water than green herbs. The most important consideration is that these herbs be planted where they have good drainage.
Our journey into creating a garden bed featuring woody herbs began almost four years ago. We started with a combination of both woody and green herbs. The first few years all watering was done by hand. Then, in October of 2019, a drip system was installed. Sometime around mid-spring of this year, we noticed that our plants weren’t thriving. A soil test revealed that the garden was low in nitrogen but moderate to high in phosphorus, potassium and other minerals. Organic matter was 9.36%.
After doing further research, we read an article advising that two things to avoid when starting a Mediterranean garden were horse manure and wood chips. We had unknowingly used both when building our bed. A decision was made to excavate the existing soil 6-8 inches down and start fresh.
On November 11th, Soil Building Systems delivered 5 cubic yards of a rose mix selected especially for our Mediterranean bed. Volunteers worked carefully while spreading the mix to create a mound shape for optimal drainage requirements. Once established, a protective plastic weed barrier was custom cut to cover the entire bed. Using a box cutter, an “x” was made in the plastic where each herb was planted. The finishing touch was a 3 inch topping of pea gravel to give our bed the look of gardens circling the Mediterranean basin.
The short list of woody herbs found in most Mediterranean gardens includes:
Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis)
Lavender (Lavandula species)
Marjoram and Oregano (Origanum marjorana and vulgare)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Winter Savory (Satureja montana)
In addition to the woody herbs listed above, we added curry plant, myrtle, summer savory and a dwarf fig tree. In the early spring of 2022, our Mediterranean garden will be embellished with a colorful display of other drought-tolerant plants that thrive in the same conditions. Some additions will include Rock Purslane and a pleasing selection of succulents.
We hope that our reimagined Mediterranean landscape with its soft colors, gravel beds and informal, drought-tolerant plantings will hint of a visit to the countrysides of France, Greece or Italy. Perhaps you will be captivated by the intoxicating fragrance and earthy flavors characterized by these essential woody herbs of the Mediterranean region.
Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008