I’m always on the lookout for native plants that will perform well in my herb garden. Using native plants means lower water needs and greater resistance to the extremes of our rapidly changeable weather. Two of my favorite Southwest native herbs are what I think of as the Tagetes Twins – Copper Canyon daisies (Tagetes lemmonii) and Mexican tarragon (Tagetes lucida).
A Desert Daisy
Copper Canyon daisy (T. lemmonii) is a dry climate perennial shrub that will grow about three feet high and spread as much as six feet. When brushed this lacy-leafed perennial shrub has a distinct lemon aroma with camphor undertones. It produces bright yellow flowers about an inch in diameter in late fall. To me, they look like daisies sprinkled on a field of green leaves.
Copper Canyon daisies can grow successfully all across the Southwest. Experts recommend growing the plant in sandy desert soils, but it is equally happy in my Texas clay soil garden. It usually likes a spot with at least four hours of direct sun but in my garden it performs well in part shade. By mid-summer, it will be quite large and sprawling. Trim Copper Canyon daisy to a reasonable size to prevent it from dominating you garden bed and encourage fall blooming. After the blooms fade, prune again to about a foot high.
A Tarragon Substitute
The other half of the Tagetes Twins is Mexican tarragon (T. lucida), a tough perennial hardy to Zone 7. Its sturdy branches usually reach 2 to 3 feet, although I’ve seen it as tall as four feet. The long, thin leaves are dark green with a slight serrated edge.
Like its twin, Mexican tarragon will be happy growing in well-drained soil but will also tolerate a wide range of soils and conditions. It prefers at least four hours of direct sun but will also bloom in shady areas. I’ve been growing my Mexican tarragon for years in a spot that only gets about an hour of direct sun a day.
Late fall is when Mexican tarragon really shines in the garden. Just when it seems like nothing more will bloom, this herb puts on a cheerful show of golden marigold-like flowers. These blooms are a “last hurrah” for fall and a signal that winter is just around the corner.
Mexican tarragon is a low-maintenance plant with few pests or problems. Besides the occasional visit from the spittle bug or the four-line beetle in late spring, not much attacks it. During the growing season keep an eye out for young plants sneaking into difficult-to-reach spots. In late fall after the blooms begin to fade, prune stems down to the ground.
Mexican tarragon provides a slightly sweet substitute for French tarragon. This is fortunate for us because French tarragon grows poorly in many parts of the Southwest. In the kitchen it can be used anywhere you would use French tarragon. Add finely chopped leaves to chicken or tuna salad. Its spicy flavor also goes well with corn or squash dishes.
So there you have it, two hardy native herbs with bright fall color and good flavor or aroma. What more could a gardener in our region ask for?
If you enjoy herbs and organic gardening, you’ll want to meet Ann McCormick, the Herb ‘n Cowgirl. A life-long gardener, she has devoted her time for the last 20 years to writing and speaking about her favorite subject. Ann is a feature writer for The Dallas Morning News.The Herb ‘n Cowgirl also shares her love of herbs and her gardening techniques as a speaker and media guest. She lives in Fort Worth, TX with her husband of 35 years and an assortment of dogs. To find out more about the Herb ‘n Cowgirl visit her at www.herbncowgirl.com.