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For dry gardens, easy and aromatic herbs.

For dry gardens, easy and aromatic herbs

Natural-looking, easygoing, and compact, many herbal shrubs and ground covers are well suited for landscape use in the arid West. In hillside and country gardens, their soft colors and undulating growth habits blend well with a backdrop of native plants. In urban courtyards, their interesting textures and fresh fragrances are a joy up close.

Here you see three garden uses: a mixed border, large drifts of several different plants, and a single specimen given the spotlight.

Some herbs are available in flats for use as ground covers or in gallon cans, but many are commonly sold only in 3-inch pots--it takes imagination to see them as prospects for the landscape.

Not all herbs are equally decorative. Here are some of the most attractive and well behaved for landscape use.

Low growers for ground covers

Creeping thyme. Use the almost Flat-growing mats in crevices between stepping stones and in rock walls, or as an edge along a path. For solid coverage, space plugs from cell-packs or flats 6 to 12 inches apart. Although dedicated gardeners succeed in using thyme as lawns, it's too susceptible to competition from weeds to be practical for large areas.

Common kinds in nurseries (forms of Thymus serpyllum) usually have pink to lavender flowers in spring; specialists also offer white-flowered, caraway- and coconut-scented kinds. Use fuzzy gray woolly thyme (T. pseudolanuginosus) where you don't want bees; it has little or no bloom.

Woolly yarrow (Achillea tomentosa). Plant and use it in the same ways as creeping thyme or as a low edging for unthirsty flower borders. Shear or mow off the yellow flowers when they fade.

Creeping rosemary. For a solid ground cover like the one shown at far left, space plants 2 feet apart. Rosmarinus officinalis "Lockwood de Forest' and "Prostratus' are also magnificent cascading over walls or from balconies. "Collingwood Ingram' grows to 2 1/2 feet and has flowers of a richer blue.

Shrubby herbs, 2 feet tall or more

You can place these alone, in drifts, or combined with other sun-loving, unthirsty plants. Use heights given as a rough guide to spacing; plants usually grow at least as wide as they do tall.

To keep them dense and fluffy instead of ragged and woody, prune soon after bloom and once or twice more in late summer or early spring. To retain the undulating character you see in the photographs, follow the plant's natural contours rather than clipping in angular lines.

Santolina. The green form (S. virens) grows a little faster and blooms more heavily than the gray one (S. chamae-cyparissus); both need occasional pruning to keep their 3-foot branches from sprawling to expose woody centers. The 1 1/2- to 2-foot plants you see at far left are eight years old. Owner Molly Wilson of Redding, California, clips them twice a year with electric hedge shears, carefully maintaining the separate shape of each plant.

Lavender. For compact bushes with extradark blue-purple flowers, grow foot-tall dwarf English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) "Hidcote' or 1 1/2-foot "Munstead'. For almost continuous bloom in mild climates, grow 3-foot-tall French lavenders (green and gray forms of L. dentata) or 5-toot-tall sweet lavender (L. heterophylla).

Upright rosemary. "Tuscan Blue' grows 3 to 4 feet tall within a few years from a gallon can; unpruned it may reach 6 feet or more. Its flowers are darker blue and the foliage greener than most ground cover types of rosemary.

Photo: Three easy ground covers: yellow buttons pop up first on green santolina, will soon follow on gray santolina behind; creeping rosemary borders other side of walk

Photo: A single plant of English lavender spreads 3 feet tall and 5 wide, unfazed by heat of Sacramento patio. Annual shearing after bloom keeps its youthful silhouette

Photo: Spring bloomers for arid gardens: two kinds of creeping thyme, sticky monkey flower, upright rosemary, spikes of lavender, and sage provide texture and soothing colors in hillside garden in Southern California's Santa Monica Mountains

Photo: Yellow flowers with ferny leaves: creeping woolly yarrow and taller rue
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Apr 1, 1986
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