As old as the apothecary’s art and beyond, is the making of herb gardens. For fragrance, flavor, and medicine, the plants we now refer to as herbs were a vital part of the household. Now we consider herb gardens mainly for their decorative value, the culinary useful ones finding their place in the vegetable plot and the rest incorporated in perennial flower and foliage schemes; but as a decorative form, the herbal garden lives on. Still oftentimes echoing the ancient garden forms, we use garden layouts not very different from those of Medieval days.
Herb Garden Quicklinks:
How Should The Design Look?
Many of our ideas of how an herbal garden should look derive from the old monastery cloisters with regularly spaced beds in a formal arrangement. Using those design elements are a plethora of garden styles, from the intricate Tudor knot gardens to the loose, yet still organized colonial gardens of early America. The main characteristic is that they are formally arranged, often in geometric shaped beds.
The best part of an herb garden is of course the plants themselves. Some are quite beautiful in flower and form and hold their own as members of a perennial garden, some are more sprawling or given to rampant ways of growing. Herbal garden forms, such as raised beds, box enclosed areas, and wagon wheels are adapted to controlling the worst neighbors while exhibiting the better behaved.
Whatever the choices, one of the highlights of growing herbs is the heady scent and the soft colorings. The herb garden is of long history given to themes, since particular herbs were used for specific purposes and early on that was deemed one of the ways to organize them in plantings. Herbs were used for cookery, remedies, and as strewing herbs on floors; and so we have the culinary herb gardens, the medicinal, the dyers plants, and their variations according to household needs.
Styles and Variations
If you have the time and inclination, a Tudor knot garden is one of historical interest and beauty.
Herb plants which take clipping well are combined in patterns of intersecting lines which follow geometric shapes such as the circle or diamond; trimmed to resemble ropes interlacing one another.
There are books available with design patterns and detailed instructions. Close attentions is paid to to plant choice for foliage color and maintenance of clipping into shape on a regular basis.
Plants commonly used were boxwood, santolina, lavender, germander for the varicolored roping.
Colonial gardens with simple pathways along an axis and rectangular, square or circle beds, built in raised boxes or carefully maintained, orderly paths and beds, are somewhat formal due to these simplified bedding shapes which hark back to the practical monastery gardens and look ahead to the Cottage style. Often using a quadrant garden design, the gardens were simple to keep maintained and to harvest from, planting beds sometimes surrounded by small fences or hedged borders of boxwood (a favorite for Southern colonial gardens, especially). A feature of this style might be clipped evergreen topiary.
“Herbs do comfort the
wearied braine with fragrant
smells which yield a certain
kinde of nourishment.”-William Coles, 1656
Some of today’s forms are Ladder gardens (Martha Stewart had one of these) using an actual old ladder as the dividers between the specific plant areas, checkerboards of modern paved sections alternated with plant-filled areas. Butterfly and hummingbird gardens have so many herbs recommended that they could be your choice for the herb garden style for your yard.
The picture above is an herb garden in Central Ohio, Inniswood Garden, a public park
Gardening Tips for Herb Plots
If you are laying out a geometric form use a string and peg, the pegs from which you stretch string to mark even straight lines or the circumference of your circles. A little lime dust or builders chalk can outline it clearer, if necessary, sprinkled along the lines as you lay them out with the string.
Like all garden preparation be sure to improve the soil in your herb garden. Just because herbs are considered low demand plants does not mean you should shortchange their soil preparation. Add organic matter and soil additives according to your soils needs (determined with a soil analysis).
All herbs with running roots (mint is notorious for this) should have their roots contained, or they might take over the garden. Some suggest using old chimney pipes, or a 10 inch diameter drain pipe might be useful also. Set it upright and make sure enough is buried to keep the roots from spreading, with a rim above ground.
Nutshell Version of How To Grow
Keep these points in mind when creating your herb garden:
- herbs usually like full sun (4 to 6 hours of sun)
- most prefer well drained soil
- most need even moisture, though some are drought-tolerant
Herbs such as dill, parsley, and chives are easy to grow from seed. Other herbs are tender and take longer to come to harvest, like Basil and Marjoram, so they should be started early indoors. Most herb plants are available as plants in small pots. Those are the easiest way to begin your garden. Many perennial herbs are good to divide for more plants- such as thymes, hyssop, oregano, and sage. Plants such as Lavender are easy to multiply from cuttings.
When you are ready to choose your herbs and perhaps grow them according to use…
Click onto the Herb Garden Plant List