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Growing Mediterranean herbs

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Marshwood Spanish Lavender in flower.

PHOTO BY DAVE HANSON, SAGE GARDEN HERBS Enlarge Image

Marshwood Spanish Lavender in flower. Photo Store

Bay leaf, lavender, and rosemary are among the most savoured of the Mediterranean herbs.

They are also among the least suited to our local climate. Do we have to do without? Absolutely not.

Herbs infuse our lives with scent, flavour and beauty, particularly these most coveted of the coveted. If your palate, heart, green thumb, or not-so-green thumb hankers to enjoy them as freshly grown plants, there’s no need to let a minor detail like climate stand in your way.
All three herbs require lots of sun and dry growing conditions. Sun, we’ve got. Dry we can provide.

All are evergreen, woody, and have long lifespans. There is absolutely no chance of either bay leaf or rosemary overwintering outside. Given just the right microclimate, some lavender cultivars will pull through. If microclimates elude you though, find yourself a nice container.

Grown in pots, we can easily provide the dry growing conditions they prefer. And with luck, a bit of looking the other way, and a bit of help from a local nursery friend, we might even have them for years to come.

Make sure the pot has a hole or two in the bottom to allow for good drainage. Use a basic potting soil mix.

During the summer, put them in full sun, and water them when the soil is dry to touch. They like it dry, but they need moisture to survive so don’t let them completely dry out.
Bring them in for the winter and put them where they’ll receive the most direct light possible. A south-facing window is ideal, east or west-facing will suffice. Just as in the summer, water when the soil is dry to touch. This will be markedly less often than in the summer. But pay attention, as being evergreen plants, they don’t get wilty when too dry; they simply die.

Overwintering inside will not be a pretty sight. Leaves will wither, branches may die, and by spring there’ll be long gangly shoots that look more like weed than herb. Ignore it all. When they get back outside and into an approximation of their preferred growing conditions, they’ll settle back into a recognizable plant.

If you’d rather not put yourself or your cherished plant through the overwintering process, Sage Garden Herbs offers a lavender and rosemary wintering service. Check out their website for details and drop-off dates.

Carla Keast has a master’s degree in landscape architecture and is a Winnipeg-based freelance landscape designer. She can be reached at contact@carlakeast.com

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