Best Laid Plan(t)s

By Teo Spengler | March 12, 2022
Image by BarbraFord
by Teo Spengler
March 12, 2022

Herbs like parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme need a full sun location to grow, right? Every gardener knows that, even beginners, and I certainly knew that when I installed my first herb garden in my San Francisco backyard. How, then, did this entire garden end up in the shade? It wasn’t easy!

First Herb Garden

My first herb garden in San Francisco wasn’t my first herb garden. For over a decade I had planted an annual summer vegetable garden in a sunny spot on my land in France, with warm weather veggies like tomatoes and peppers as well as a large selection of Mediterranean herbs

When I moved back to California to pursue my M.F.A. at San Francisco State University, I rented a place with a big, empty backyard, just waiting to be cultivated. Since I arrived in late spring, it was perfect timing to put in plants, and it wasn’t more than a few weeks later that I carried in multiple sacks of soil and compost and blended them into the extremely sandy soil. I planted a vegetable garden in a raised bed in the center of the yard, then a smaller herb garden on the far south border. 

Best Laid Plan(t)s

All went well for about a month. My little plants grew well. I watered them carefully and they had sun on their leaves every single afternoon. I had to travel north to pick up my Volkswagen van at the home of a very patient friend in Humboldt County, where I had left it some years before.

It’s a long drive and we had a lot of catching up to do. My classes hadn’t started yet so I gave myself over a week in the redwoods before driving my van back down Highway 101 to the Bay Area. I knew my veggies would be okay since it had rained two of those ten days. 

When I got home, checking the garden was the first thing I did. I dropped my bag and rushed out into the backyard. There was my vegetable garden in full sun. There was my herb garden”¦ in the shade!

Herbs in the Shade

Nobody had mentioned to me that the neighbor to the south intended to install a property line fence between our yard and theirs. The fence was about 7 feet (2 m.) high. Although it didn’t block the sun to my veggie garden, the herbs were entirely in the shade.

I could have transplanted them, but I didn’t. All the herbs seemed healthy and happy, and I didn’t want to upset their stability. So, I just kept growing them in the shade, all these Mediterranean herbs that loved and longed for direct sunshine. I watered them a bit less, religiously removed weeds, and hoped for the best.

I found out an interesting thing: herbs might prefer sunshine, but they grow just fine in the shade. My basil thrived. The rosemary doubled its size, parsley and chives just kept getting taller. I will admit that when winter came, I transplanted them all into a central site near the vegetable garden, but that summer, they grew without any direct sun, and they rocked it!

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