Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, 47 acres of botanical bliss fronting the Pacific Ocean

Creating an Inland Culinary Herb Garden

Herbs can thrive in hot summers and temperate winters!

General description: Located in Sunset's climate Zone 14, inland Mendocino County's Mediterranean climate is marked by hot summers and temperate winters; the climate provides a natural home for a wide array of culinary herbs. Cultural requirements differ generally based on herb type: perennial and annual. Perennials that thrive in Zone 14 include chives, mint, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, sage, oregano and culinary bay. Typical annuals include basil, borage, cilantro, dill and parsley (a biennial grown as an annual); consider tucking them in amongst flowers as they have similar cultural requirements. Locate your culinary herb garden to give you easy access to it from the kitchen; make special use of the microclimates surrounding your home to provide the correct environment to encourage your herbs to thrive.

Soil: Generally speaking, the perennial herbs thrive in Mendocino County's lean native soils. Most require average to good drainage. Some, like rosemary, are able to thrive in locations that are quite hot and dry. The annuals generally require richer soils, so fortify the garden with compost prior to planting.

Light: Most culinary herbs require full sun though late afternoon shade adjacent to the house provides an excellent protection to tender-leaved species like basil and parsley.

Water: The perennials have lower water requirements; annuals prefer moister conditions. Some herb growers maintain that reducing water prior to harvest enriches the flavor of herbs intended for drying.

Fertilizing: The perennial herbs require little in the way of nutritional amendments where soil has had compost worked in prior to planting; on young annuals herbs, a light nitrogen dressing enhances the early stages of growth.

Maintenance: The perennials require very little maintenance; prune annually and mulch. Some varieties get quite large, so if you wish to contain them, consider lifting and pruning roots and stems annually. The annuals require a little more care: deadhead when you do not wish to save seed, apply an annual dressing of compost and mulch well.

Pests and Diseases: Generally, culinary herbs are largely pest-free. Young starts can be the target of birds; where this is the case, cover with netting until well established.

Favorite plant picks:

  • Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum)
  • Winter savory, (Satureja montana)
  • French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus); avoid Russian variety due to weak flavor
  • Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
  • Italian flat-Leafed parsley (Petroselinum crispum neapolitanum)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis); preferred culinary cultivar: 'Tuscan Blue'

References: On Growing Herbs: How to Grow Herbs, Sunset Books, 1972. On Designing an Herb Garden: Perennial Gardens, John Williamson, 1988. Herb Garden Design, Faith H. Swanson and Virginia B. Rady, 1984. The Herbalist's Garden, Shatoiya and Richard de la Tour, 2001. Submitted by Master Gardener Margaret McClure, 2010.