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Desert Gardening: Tough Herbs for a Tough Climate

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Grow resilient herbs that can stand up to desert conditions — then discover how to use them in the kitchen.

Sweet marjoram planted in a pail.

By Scott Calhoun

Herbs that are easy to grow are the only sorts I bother with. Delicate herbs that are quick to bolt and fast to burn in the sun need not apply.

As with veggies, it is always good to grow things you like to eat. But the other side of the coin — and part of the fun — is experimenting with new tastes and textures. This can be particularly rewarding with herbs. Below are some of the most rewarding herbs for desert gardeners.

Rosemary growing in a terra-cotta pot.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). With a long culinary history, rosemary is probably my favorite herb. You can grow it in the ground or in a container. It takes low winter temperatures and scorching heat waves in summer. Some varieties creep like ground cover (‘Huntington Carpet’); others form shrubs (‘Tuscan Blue’). You can easily cultivate rosemary in the ground or in a container, snipping off sprigs any time you need them.

My favorite way to use rosemary is with fingerling potatoes. I toss the potatoes, a handful of rosemary sprigs, salt and pepper, and olive oil on a baking sheet. Bake at 400°F until the potato skins become crispy and the centers soften. You may need to quarter the potatoes if they are much bigger than golf balls.

Vigorous mint growing in a terra-cotta pot.

Mint (Mentha spp.). It gets a bad name for its aggressive nature, but place mint in a pot in a desert garden, and it causes little trouble. This is because most of our arid gardens aren’t wet enough to support a mint escape. Just don’t plant it in damp areas, like near a fountain. Try mint in teas, mojitos, and yogurt-based dips.

Italian parsley growing in a raised bed.

Italian parsley (Petroselinum crispum). To my tastes, Italian parsley has a much better texture than the curly-leaf type. Combine Italian parsley with grated carrots in a meat loaf, or use it in tomato-based pasta sauces. Italian parsley may bolt once temperatures get really high, but you can plant a new crop. It is a good candidate for mixing with cool-season greens.

Mexican oregano in full bloom.

Mexican oregano (Poliomintha maderensis). I like a plant that fills both ornamental and culinary purposes — and Mexican oregano certainly does that. Sprays of lavender-white tubular flowers appear from late spring to summer. But Mexican oregano also is a culinary plant. The leaves have a strong oregano scent and flavor, and you can use them in salsa and Italian tomato sauces. You can plant Mexican oregano right in the ground. It seems to prefer the alkaline soils we typically have in the Southwest.

Those are a few of my favorites, but there are many herbs to choose from, and I encourage you to experiment!

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