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Shrubby Herbs in the organic garden

Many shrubby herbs are native to the Mediterranean. These include sage, thyme, rosemary, sweet bay, marjoram and its less spicy cousin oregano and the culinary lavenders

By Nick Nutter | Last Updated 9 Mar 2022 | Andalucia | Organic Garden
French Tarragon

French Tarragon

Planting the Shrubby Herbs

Gardening is all about planning, preparing the ground ready for sowing or planting, sowing or planting to reap later and pruning to increase the yield of fruit or flowers. If you enjoy using herbs in the kitchen then now is the time to start thinking about preparing the ground and planting the first of the herbs to enjoy this spring. The first thing to do is make a list of the herbs you use and the second is to draw a plan. I cannot remember how many times I have planted out a herb garden without a plan, here and back in the UK, and then had to move plants about because they were smothered, overshadowed or unreachable. This month we concentrate on the shrubby herbs that can be purchased as small plants. January is the best time to plant them on.


Mediterranean Herbs

Sweet Bay

Sweet Bay

Many shrubby herbs are native to the Mediterranean. These include sage, thyme, rosemary, sweet bay, marjoram and its less spicy cousin oregano and the culinary lavenders. Typically they do not need a particularly good ground; they are just not used to it. The gravelly, sandy clay found on the Costa del Sol is normal to them. The exceptions are bay and oregano. Both produce healthier plants if they are in well-composted soil. All without exception need good drainage, and all can be grown in pots.

Spacing Herbs

Culinary Lavender

Culinary Lavender

These shrubby herbs, all being well, will be with you for many years, so spacing is important. Sage, once established, spreads rapidly and vigorously, allow 1 metre all around. Thyme spreads more slowly so allow 0.5 metres — the same for bay and rosemary. Marjoram develops into a neat bush whilst oregano tends to sprawl out across the ground. The lavenders mature to all sizes. I have one, a number of years old now, that is 2 metres high and over 3 metres in diameter. I really should have cut it back earlier and now I cannot bring myself to because it is such a handsome plant and the bees love it.



Prepare the ground by digging it over and removing all perennial weed roots.

Planting tips



Bay, lavender, rosemary and sage are the tallest plants so plant them at the back or in the middle of the prepared ground. Marjoram will reach 0.5 metres in height, thyme perhaps 0.25 metres depending on variety and oregano the same. One of each plant is plenty enough.



If you intend to grow tarragon, then purchase a root cutting of French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) rather than the altogether differently flavoured Russian tarragon (Artemisia dracunculoides). French Tarragon is an essential ingredient in a classic Bearnaise Sauce. This herb can only be grown from root cuttings. Once established it will continue to spread into a 0.5 high metre green carpet until it is restricted or chopped back. Every year mine dies back in January. I cover it with compost and spend an anxious three months waiting for it to re-emerge. So far it has not let me down.

To cater for the soft-leaved perennial herbs that we will look at next month, and the annual herbs we will sow in March, you should dig plenty of compost in now. If you intend to grow the herbs fennel or lovage leave plenty of room for them, they grow to well over 2 metres high.

Watering Mediterranean Herbs

The message is,:
Once the plants are established then they need very little water.

Rosemary, lavender, thyme and sage particularly, will suffer from root rot if they are over-watered. The first signs of root rot is the foliage on the plant turning brown. This may only affect part of the plant. I, like many others, made the mistake of thinking this was a sign the plant was thirsty so I ended up drowning the poor things.

Shrubby herbs, planted in January in well prepared ground, will have established themselves by May when the weather warms up. You should reduce watering from then on, only water when the ground is bone dry to a good depth.

My Mediterranean herbs do not receive any direct water at all, ever. They grow on the periphery of the planting area used for the annual herbs and seem to thrive on the little water that percolates sideways deep down.


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  • Patricia Hankinson - 14 Jan 2022
    Love all the herbs. Thanks for the tips
    • Nick Nutter - 15 Jan 2022
      No problem, thanks for the comment
  • Peter Bradley - 20 Dec 2021
    An excellent article on herbs I live on the south coast of Spain and will apply your advice Are spice plants easy to grow ?
    • Nick Nutter - 20 Dec 2021
      The easy to grow spices in a Mediterranean climate are: chilli plants, cumin, coriander, fennel, saffron (from the autumn crocus). I have had good results from these down on the coast at Sabinillas. Chillis, coriander and fennel have so far worked at 700 metres altitude in Almeria.
  • Jon Stein - 11 Nov 2020
    Good article. Look forward to learning more and applying the advice to land here in Maro (Málaga).
    • Geraldine - 20 Jul 2020
      Great article, thanks. Where can I buy French Tarragon plant.
      • Nick Nutter - 20 Jul 2020
        Hi Geraldine, I am not sure, I brought mine back from the UK as a very small root cutting, it is now a metre square low bush. Drop me an email at with your address and I will send you a piece of root when my plant becomes dormant, about February.

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