Yes, you can use your landscape for cooking.

No, not chopping down your trees for firewood, but growing a number of culinary herbs as part of your low water use landscape.

Many plants we use as herbs originated in the Mediterranean. Just as we have an alphabet, justice system, and code of ethics descended from Mediterranean civilizations, so too our herbs. A scan of your spice shelf reveals oregano, sage, marjoram, garlic, onion and possibly others from warm, rocky hillsides of Greece, Turkey, Israel and ancient Egypt. We have a plethora of warm rocky hillsides around Tucson. Why not make the ones in your yard part of your spice shelf?

Most culinary herbs thrive in plenty of sunlight, making them ideal for Tucson. A word of warning is needed, however. As hot as it does get in the Mediterranean, it isn't as hot as our Sonoran Desert. The ocean keeps it cooler there, and failing ocean front property in Tucson, you have to help keep your herbs cooler. Afternoon shade works well, or a good layer of organic mulch to shade the roots. The label may say "full sun," but those national labels apply better to "back East."

Oregano and marjoram are actually the same species. The flavors are different because they are different cultivars, much like red and yellow roses. Do not plant these siblings in the same bed. Oregano is more aggressive and will crowd out milder mannered marjoram. These plants do appreciate afternoon shade and water every few days in summer.

Rosemary and germander are different species. Both come in a variety of cultivars, including erect, trailing and creeping. Rosemary has deep bluish-green needle-like leaves. Germander has rounded leaves with serrated edges, and depending on species are either bright green or silvery. Germander and rosemary come in creeping forms that make excellent groundcovers. Trailing forms of these herbs cascade over the edges of pots or down rocky slopes. Erect forms make splendid short shrubs for under picture windows.

Both of these herbs can be used virtually interchangeably in the kitchen. Potatoes. Stuffing. Meat dishes. Sprigs of germander or rosemary thrown on the barbecue add a delightful flavor to the meat.

Garlic chives are not true chives. A graceful perennial with long, slender green leaves, they produce clusters of tiny white flowers every few months from spring through fall. Use the fresh leaves, and flowers too, as you would chives, but notice the faint garlic tang. Grow in the ground or in containers.

A South African native that looks and does very well in the xeriscape is society garlic. Available with leaves that are glossy green or variegated blue-green and white, this delightful plant rewards extra water with clusters of purple flowers. Like garlic chives, the edible parts are both the leaf and flowers. Chop leaves into salad for a hint of garlic flavor, but not so much garlic that it would offend polite society.

Perennial herbs grow well in the xeriscape. The reward is beautiful, lush landscaping, plus fresh herbs that taste far better than the stuff you get in the supermarket, and for a fraction of the price.

Got plants but not sure how to care for them? Want to start a vegetable garden but need some tips? I will be your "Garden Coach" and help you move forward with your landscape or gardening plans. Give me a call at 292-0504. Please leave a voice message.

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