On herb gardens and selective green thumbs

More than half of this photo is edible

By Katherine

The woman who owned our home before us was such an avid gardener she planted the neighbor’s side yard. Azaleas lined the walkway. Lantana bushes surrounded the mailbox. She had an intricate sprinkler system on an automatic timer. The yard was bursting with hydrangeas and ferns. Six years later, the yard is one of the greenest on the block. Weeds will do that. The hydrangeas are gone. The sprinklers pulled up. The lantanas mowed down. The azaleas, well some of those are still alive. Apparently those bushes are drought and general neglect resistant.

So it strikes us as funny that whenever my husband does a post on the garden people comment on his green thumb. Others talk about how nice it must be to have space to grow or such a long growing season down here in the South. We’re not complaining, except about the heat.

Our yard is only a quarter of an acre, and the garden is not as grand as the ones our blogging friends in Connecticut or Rhode Island or Spain have. We hear everything is bigger in Texas. Still we’re having a bumper tomato crop and our potted plants, all herbs this year, are doing well. Greg loves spending time in the garden because the results are tangible. Neither of us care much for a higher water bill or a neon green, weed-free lawn.

I took these photos on a recent weekend. My photography skills do not rival those of my husband, so humor me please. The picture above is of our sage plant, which survives over winter. The tree behind it is an example of how not to prune a crape myrtle or rather what one looks like when it isn’t pruned. The picture below is our larger mint plant. We also have one on the back porch. We like our mint.

Even in a pot, mint will spread to the ground if you let it

Below is one of our two oregano plants. Look lower at the expanse of brown interspersed with tiny spots of green. That’s grass making a futile attempt to grow.

Oregano is a cornerstone for Italian food, grass isn't

The rosemary bushes Greg planted shortly after we moved in have taken over what we had envisioned to be an herb garden. They’ve survived multiple canine intrusions, by our no-fence-can-hold-me back dog.

Rosemary can be used as an edible shrubbery

So what is left from the previous homeowner? We inherited most of the pots from her, the plastic Adirondacks and a freaky assortment of concrete garden accessories. (If you look past the chubby boy/friend of bunnies and the on high alert rabbit, you can once again see how well tended our lawn is.)

The rest of the yard is a wasteland though

She also left us this dogwood and what at one time may have been a flower garden. Greg wants to tear out the tree to plant more tomatoes next year. I’m resisting. Call me sentimental, but having something with pretty blooms in the yard that doesn’t need to be watered is still nice. Although, tomatoes really do taste better.

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About Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide

This blog attempts to collect some of the things I try to create with food and booze. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail. My hope is to entertain and maybe help people think a little harder about what they decide to eat and drink.
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59 Responses to On herb gardens and selective green thumbs

  1. nrhatch says:

    That look likes a bumpter crop of rosemary.
    Rosemary Foccaccia, anyone?

  2. The rosemary looks very happy. If only my mint in a pot would look half as good as yours.

  3. Our sage survives the winter, too! So does our thyme. It grows in a half barrel next to the house. This must give it a little buffer from the wind and cold!

  4. JamieAnne says:

    Thanks for the garden shout out!

    You’re not the only one with a massive amount of weeds. We’ve got tons. Our whole backyard was weedy when we bought this house 7 years ago. The previous owners were not outdoor lovers. They apparently were so adverse to the outdoors that they had a swingset in the livingroom. Funky, really odd, borderline creepy…but I digress.
    I like your garden statues.
    :)

  5. Yes, you should consider yourselves lucky – we have a large balcony but no room for greenery, which I miss. Having said that there’s a little community herb garden which we visit often for fresh sage, lemon thyme and basil.

  6. Kathryn says:

    Not much seems bigger in Central Texas this year; we’re in a terrible drought, so all my herbs are stunted and puny. This makes me long for more rain! Your garden is gorgeous.

  7. joshuafagans says:

    We wish we had 1/4 acre to work with. Hard to come by in our neck of the woods. I definitely agree that you can never have too many tomatoes though :).

  8. Oh Katherine your photos are amazing.. I might have to feature you soon ;). But your backyard does look beautiful. And the previous owner must have loved gardening. You and Greg have definitely done a great job upholding the green thumb.

    • Katherine says:

      Ha, thanks Kay. I’m trying to at least be proficient with the camera. It’s a big, honking, complicated thing, but I should at least learn to set the exposure right!

  9. rsmacaalay says:

    I am unlucky with my herb gardening, I planted some mint, coriander and parsley before and it did not work out. I hope I can get tips from you.

  10. Rita says:

    The rosemary bush looks really verdant: How many wonderful recipes you could make with it!! I grow rosemary in pots because I haven’t so much space but it’s growing ok. ;)

  11. Sissi says:

    Now I understand why I see sage so often in your recipes. When I compare my small plants on the balcony to your huge bushes… Well, it’s better than nothing I suppose!

  12. Charles says:

    When I have a garden one day I’ll stick to things I know will grow well – rosemary, sage, mint, thyme tends to do well – low maintenance and hardy, although mint has a tendency to take over if not kept in check. Never tried growing oregano… in fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen fresh oregano. I love the smell of it so I should try and find time. Oh, and tarragon too… make some awesome béarnaise sauces!

    That’s quite the massive rosemary bush you’ve got there Greg. It’s true what you say about it being used as “edible shrubbery” – I often see it planted in borders and flower-beds around the town and outside office buildings sometimes.

  13. I think you are lucky to have that nice backyard! You both certainly make the very best of it!

  14. Maybe it’s my Oklahoma upbringing, but I can NOT bring myself to take out a healthy tree, even though there are SO many here… Leave it? Please? :)
    And that rosemary… so jealous of that one. Mine almost never survive the winter, even with a southern exposure. I remember the sage in my first garden – looong time ago – and how huge it grew in the south. I couldn’t use enough of it…
    Thanks for the shout-out. (Now that my internet is back, I can actually see it) We should all be celebrating the strengths of our various gardens in various climates. It’s one of the best things about blogging, getting to ‘visit’ other gardens!
    (Oh, and that green ‘lawn’ in my photos? It’s mostly clover, not grass…. ;) )

    • Katherine says:

      There are some dead branches, but until it stops blooming I don’t think it’s going anywhere. We had some damage to a number of trees a few years back from just the heat. With the dry weather and heat this year, we might see the same thing.

  15. Kristy says:

    Well you guys are doing much better than us that’s for sure. It looks great to me. We too inherited a yard with sprinklers and all sorts of plants. (I have no idea what they are.) I just know they’ll keep coming back. My feeble attempt at planting some annuals never really went anywhere though. LOL. Keep up the good work. And I’m with you – keep the flowering bush. They are so pretty to look at – and low maintenance!!!

  16. Years ago my husband pulled out a pear tree. How I loved the white blossoms that complemented the white trim on our blue house. Why did he pull it out? Too close to the house he said.

  17. I have mint coming out my ears this year. It is so invasive! Grow basil and parsley in my kitchen. Love having fresh herbs to cook with. Love that sage plant!

  18. Kelly says:

    Love the edible photos and that rosemary bush – whoa. Incredible. Even your self-described wasteland looks beautiful to me. I guess it’s all about context – what you’re used to and what surrounds you. We do have a short season in Canada but even without that excuse, I appear to have trouble keeping anything alive… (a troubling admission). Thanks for the pretty photos – your skills are just fine :)

  19. I’m always impressed by the gardening posts! You guys do a great job! I wish I could try my hand at some small garden. Living in a high-rise quashes that idea quickly.

  20. Karen says:

    Hi Katherine, Your photos look good to me. Would you believe that all my herbs in Maine come back each year, except rosemary. I had no idea how hardy herbs can be…surviving below zero temperatures and tons of snow. I’m envious of that rosemary shrub.

    • Katherine says:

      Thanks. Just on the surface, it seems like rosemary would be a bit hardier, but I guess looks can be deceiving. I know sage does well in the dessert, so I can understand it surviving temperature swings.

  21. banbamama says:

    Your garden is great! The rosemary bush is amazing. It’s a pity your grass doesn’t grow, but then again you are saving time and energy on not having to mow it every week lol.
    There are some great herbs that can be grown in pots and in the ground for that matter. Lavender is wonderful. It smells great and adds colour as well as attracting bees. Lemon balm is also good. Great for teas.
    This year I sowed borage with my tomatoes as a companion plant. They have the most amazing flowers.
    Fennel adds a nice dimension to the garden.
    Keep up the good work guys. Love your blog :)

  22. ChgoJohn says:

    I look upon your rosemary patch with envy! We here up North have to either bring our rosemary indoors or watch it die in the Winter months. My Zia just “lost” her rosemary plant that her father had given to her, as a little branch in a pot, well over 30 years ago. That plant was well-traveled, having been dragged indoors every Fall and outdoors each Spring.

  23. ambrosiana says:

    I really enjoyed this post! You are definitely a green thumb couple! It doesn’t matter in what condition you inherited your garden, it depends on how much love and care you put into it!!!! Great post!!

  24. Caroline says:

    Oregano plant AND rosemary bush? Eesh I’m very jealous. I would love nothing more than to have space to grow some herbs. You guys have a gorgeous backyard, and your photos are great Katherine, I don’t know what you’re talking about! :-D

  25. Holly says:

    What are you going to do with all that rosemary!? You need a lot of lamb to go with that…
    Fab garden photos, so jealous! Kitchen next please!

    • katherine says:

      Hi Holly! I keep telling Greg he should do pictures of the kitchen, so I’m glad you’ve asked. I hate, hate, hate our ugly counters, but the kitchen has so much character. Greg actually made the tabletop from a butcher’s block we found on the curb. Plus our cabinets are green. We’ll make it a vacation post!

  26. I burst out laughing when I ready “Weeds will to that”. Brilliant post Katherine – a great read! I cannot wait to plant my herbs again. :-) Mandy

  27. wee eats says:

    Boyfriend’s brother has rosemary bushes that line his whole front yard – they’re amazing. I kill EVERYTHING – literally, EVERYTHING. So when I compliment your green thumb, I really do mean it! I can’t even keep weeds alive!

  28. I´d eat your edible photo and would love to see a photo of the dog! Weeds are just flowers in the wrong place :) And thanks for the very kind mention!

  29. The garden looks great, you guys! And all that rosemary… it must smell amazing out there.

  30. Beautiful. I love seeing the spaces where people do their growing. Thanks for sharing!

  31. Maureen says:

    We moved to a house with not much land and only enough grass for the dog to poo on (and he doesn’t need much). Everything is landscaped beds. I have lots of pots but I would love to have some raised veggie beds again. Can’t have everything they tell me.

  32. Your pictures are great and your backyard looks amazing! This year I have three gardens throughout my yard they are all about 10 feet by 10 feet, ecept for one it’s about 10×20. I thought I was going to have time to up keep them but my kids drive me crazy everytime I’m out there tending the garden! Not to mention we have major japanese beetles in our gaden, my one basil plant is totaly destroyed from those darn beetles!
    I’d keep the tree, it gives the yard character and shade too! you can always grown tomatoes in a large pot if you really wanted to grow more. Looks like you and Greg are doing a wonderful job, wish I could hire you guys to do my yard! lol

    • Katherine says:

      Thanks, Lisa. The green thumb is all his. I’ve helped water a bit, and take out the compost, but I’m usually inside doing important things like cleaning toilets or watching Buffy when he’s weeding away. Basil always flowers too fast for us. So when the farmers market is going on, we get a big bunch for $1 each week.

  33. Rufus, your garden/yard looks wonderful and properly “weedy” with lots of great stuff like your bounteous Rosemary bush. I love the way it looks very much. Great pics.

  34. randommanda says:

    Wow – that’s SOME Rosemary! It’s so nice to be able to pick your own fresh herbs and not depending on local markets to have what you need. Might I suggest Rosemary with Chicken, Apples and Onions? It’s one of my favorites!

  35. niasunset says:

    It is so beautiful to pick up from your own garden and then to eat… This reminded me my childhood days… We were living in a house with a garden and there were so many vegetables, fruits and herb in this garden. In the city, especially in Istanbul I can’t do this. You are lucky people there dear Rufus, fresh and your own herbs… Thank you, with my love, nia

  36. great pics….love the rosemary, I have a bush that has been there for 3 years now…happy gardening to you!

  37. SimpleP says:

    I love touring other people’s gardens, and I enjoyed your tour and your photos very much! Hard to take bad photos of a garden, most are so green and natural. And yes, I do envy your long growing season. I have to replant my herbs every year. Happy gardening!

  38. A_Boleyn says:

    I envy you your herbs and bumper crop of tomatoes.

    I don’t have a green thumb though both my parents were excellent gardeners of fruit, vegetables and flowers. This year I was inspired to plant some purchased herbs in a couple of cement planters in my back yard. I had great success with sweet dani lemon basil and thai basil (though I don’t have much of a use for the leaves so I’m letting them go to seed and harvesting for next year) but not so much with my regular Italian basil. I did get a batch of pesto after ruthlessly harvesting 5 plants. I’ve used sprigs from my baby rosemary plant on foccacia along with some greek oregano and basil. Very tasty and satisfying to finally use fresh herbs.

    I am looking forward to planting more herbs next year.

    I have a single tomato plant and so far only have a lone tomato that I hope to harvest. The other flowers dropped off as we’ve had extremely hot weather and I may not be watering as often as required. :(

    • That bread sounds amazing. We never had luck with basil. It flowers on us so fast. But it’s cheap at our farmers market.

      • A_Boleyn says:

        The bread was marvellous with extra virgin olive oil brushed on before sprinkling on coarse sea salt and the 3 different herbs. It smelled and tasted heavenly. I want to make a batch or two of marinara sauce to freeze and plan on putting in a stalk of the basil in there to flavour the sauce.

        I learned that to keep blooms from forming, just pinch the growing tips every week, which will encourage branching and give you more leaves to harvest and enjoy. If it DOES get away from you, trim off the top third off and fertilize heavily but don’t go as far down as the woody stem or it won’t regrow.

  39. ....RaeDi says:

    Rosemary, Perfect for Kabobs with Rosemary picks….RaeDi

  40. Pingback: Paw lickin’ good | Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide

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