They were first cultivated by the ancient Romans, who sought aroma and flavor for their plant-based diet so influenced by herbs and vegetables. As the Empire expanded, they gathered new plant discoveries from conquered lands including some used as pesticides, others for cosmetics and still more strictly to scent homes of the elite. Species from the Mediterranean region were most common, originating anywhere from Spain to Turkey, France to Algeria and into parts of the Middle East.
Consider these drought-resistant plants from different parts of the Mediterranean world that are ideal fillers in sunny, well-drained locations. Each has its own unique scent created by high oil content that is key to drought resistance.
Perovskia atriplicifolia, Russian sage: This large silver leaf, blue-flowered semi-woody perennial is from the colder regions around Turkey and Afghanistan. It’s used in lieu of more tender lavenders in colder winter regions.
Rosmarinus officinalis, rosemary: Rosemary is a woody shrub and culinary herb that thrives equally well in the furnace of the low desert and high mountain elevations so long as soils are well drained.
Lavandula stoechas, Spanish lavender: Hailing from Spain, this is a tougher, heat- and drought-resistant lavender than English and French species, and it bears the fattest flowers in a purplish-blue color.
In the wild many of these plants are found on rocky bluffs and cliffs, or on slopes, all of which offer very well drained conditions. They can be difficult to grow in regions of summer rainfall, which causes root rot due to excess moisture at a time of year they prefer to be dry.
Finally, Romans grew their favorite plants in city home courtyards. They sheared them often for aromatherapy so oils are released into the air to cover up smells of urban life. This small space aromatherapy is just as useful today to mitigate the unpleasantness of neighbor’s chickens, dog run or garbage cans.
Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at www.MoPlants.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.