Many herbs have Mediterranean origins, and can grow well where the soil is sandy and water is scarce.
"All plants need water, but that varies with the variety and the setting," said Debbie Boutelier, president of The Herb Society of America. "Herbs are a good choice if you're experiencing a drought, have high, hot sun or problem settings."
Such problem areas might include boulevards, driveway strips, slopes or bare spots that have been baked into lawns.
The best results when xeriscaping with herbs come when using native plants, or plants that have adapted well to a particular area, Boutelier said. "Natives handle climatic change better than something you have to force," she said. "Planting correctly is the first rule."
Mulching or adding compost runs a close second.
"Having plants in the right place and doing cultural things that help preserve moisture, like mulch, will provide so many benefits," said Dennis Patton, a Kansas State University Research and Extension agent. "Soaker hoses and drip irrigation also have a place in the landscape. They can put water at the base of the plants where it's needed."
Xeriscaping is a practical way to garden no matter where you live, from the desert Southwest to the Canadian highlands and even Hawaii.
"More and more people are looking for lower maintenance in their gardens," Patton said. "That means less watering," and finding plants that can thrive that way but still have some foliage. "We're not talking yucca here. This is where herbs come in. They're used to dry climates and give off splashes of colour while providing other advantages."
Herbs are great all-around plants, Boutelier said: "One plant can give you a lot of purposes - culinary, ornamental, medicinal, groundcover."
This isn't to say that herbs don't present challenges. Many varieties aren't winter-hardy. Perennials often become annuals in extreme climates. Others might be invasive.
"Lavender is a touchy plant for us here in Kansas because of our clay soil, but it would be a good one in many well-drained parts of the country," Patton said. "I'm not a big fan of mint because of its aggressive tendencies, but it's great in the right spots. It's all a matter of knowing what you're getting into."
Other drought-resistant herbs to consider:
— Fennel is a perennial with leaves and seeds used for flavouring. "It's also good for attracting butterflies," Patton said.
— Low-growing herbs include yarrow (beware the aggressive runners) and thyme. "Creeping thyme makes a good groundcover and becomes fragrant when you walk on it," said Jeff Schalau, an agent with University of Arizona Cooperative Extension. Lavender is another appealing aromatic herb, as are rosemary and oregano.
— Taller herb varieties that pack a lot of colour would include phlomis (Jerusalem sage) and evening primrose, but the latter should be potted to contain its growth.
— Mint, if confined to containers, bee balm and angelica require little in the way of water, fertilizer or herbicides.
— Russian sage, horehound, santolina, marjoram, catnip, sweet alyssum and lamb's ears also fare well with minimal watering.
Not all herbs can be grown in all areas. Check with your university extension office or garden clubs for local information.
For more about xeriscaping with herbs, see this Clemson University Fact Sheet:
You can contact Dean Fosdick at deanfosdick(at)netscape.net