Your Herb Garden Design Can Be
As Unique As You Are ...

As with any other art form, there is no "wrong" herb garden design ... so choose the design that makes sense to you.

Your herb garden design plans might include:

  • culinary herbs and spices,
  • herbs chosen just for their fragrance,
  • a garden of medicinal herbs,
  • herbs for potpourri,
  • a dye garden,
  • herbs for your religious ceremonies,
  • or some of each.

People have been planting herb gardens for centuries. As you read the ideas here, consider what elements you like best and would fit into your unique herb garden design.

Some questions to ask yourself when starting an herb garden:

  • How much time do I have for maintenance? This is not an issue if you're having a company do your garden maintenance (insist that they not use chemicals!) but if you do your own gardening, larger gardens will take more work.

  • How will I use my herbs? If you'd like a kitchen herb garden to grow herbs for cooking, place your herb garden close to your kitchen so you can reach it easily.

    If you want to grow large amounts of herbs for drying, dyes, cut flowers, or medicinal uses, you can put your herb garden anywhere that's convenient.

  • Do I want a formal or informal herb garden? Formal gardens are usually set out in some geometric pattern, along with paved areas, benches, and garden accessories like birdbaths, urns or statuary.

    Consider combining herbs with dwarf or espalier fruit trees and/or ornamental vegetables (this is known as a potager) if space for your formal garden is an issue. Woody herbs like rosemary and bay are useful in creating hedges, topiary, or bonsai.

    Many famous herb gardens throughout history have been informal, so if you decide a formal garden isn't for you, that's quite all right.
An informal herb garden design
  • Do I want a theme garden? Some examples of theme gardens are perennial herb gardens, culinary herb gardens, only using annual herbs, or planting herbs of a certain color or shape.

    Some theme ideas: a garden with numerous varieties of your favorite herb (there are whole gardens devoted to mint, alliums, or varieties of thyme), or a Mediterranean themed garden with basil, oregano, parsley, marjoram and rosemary.

  • How much space do I have to spare? Obviously, you're not going to recreate the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in a 10 by 10 backyard. But you can get a lot of herbs into a small space! Vertical and container herb gardens are particularly good ways to make use of tiny or otherwise wasted areas.

  • What is my climate like? Many herbs love wet cool areas (like parsley) while others love it hot and dry (like lavender). Pick the herbs that love your area, at least for some of the year, because happy plants will look their best.

Starting an herb garden

Planning your herb garden design is not that different from planning any other edible garden . Pick an area that gets at least 5 hours of full sun a day for most herbs (six to eight is better, ten is best) with good drainage. Some herbs that prefer cool and wet weather (such as parsley) will do better in partial shade if you have hot humid summers.

Start by measuring the area you want to use for your herb garden. Sketch the pattern you want, filling in notes on colors you'd like, placement of trees, large shrubs, and garden accessories. Make sure you have access to every part of the garden through the use of paths, walkways, or paving tiles, so you can harvest your herbs.

If you need to install walls, rock work, terracing, or a pond, this is the time to plan that. Make sure you check on any relevant zoning or city codes, especially in the case of walls, terracing, and ponds, before work begins.

(Hiring a landscaper or other contractor? I highly recommend looking into Angie's List first.)

Once your infrastructure is in place, begin planting your perennial herbs, as they will take longest to grow to their final size. Plant the ones that will reach their largest size first.

If you plan to add perennial vegetables, climbing roses, shrubs, bushes hedges, or fruit trees to your herb garden design, now is the time to plant those.

When you've planted your perennials, you can add in your annual herbs and any annual vegetables you'd like.

Herb garden design at the Geffrye Museum

Basic herb garden design

  • Keep proportion in mind when choosing plants or garden accessories. A small statue looks good in a corner beside a pond with relatively small plants around it; the same figure out in the middle of a courtyard surrounded by large shrubs will look puny.

  • Think of how the garden will look from all angles. In a formal garden this will be easier due to the symmetry most of these gardens have. In a less formal garden, make sure taller and wider plants are balanced by some equally (visually) weighty garden feature.

  • Consider when plants bloom, and their color both when blooming and dormant. Also think about how tall they will be when full-grown.

    Most herbs come in a wide variety of leaf and flower colors, so if you don't see the one you want, keep looking!

  • Place taller plants behind shorter ones, unless you want the tall plant to be a focal point for the garden. Plants like myrtle (not edible), bay, and ornamental alliums can look impressive beside a garden entryway or alongside paths.

  • Plan your herb garden design so that your perennial herbs aren't disturbed when you replace your annual herbs. Leave space between your perennials and annual herbs that you will want to dig up (like onions and garlic). You might consider keeping perennials that can't overwinter in your climate in large pots rather than trying to dig them up and re-pot them every season.

  • Plant your herbs in odd-numbered groups, unless you're using a plant that becomes large and bushy (like lavender). In most cases, however, groups of three or five plants (or more!) make much more of an impact and prevent your garden from looking cluttered.

Some examples of herb garden design

A basic formal herb garden design useful for anyone (even a beginner!):

  1. take a geometric shape (circle, square, triangle, etc),
  2. divide it up with pathways into equal sections,
  3. then plant each section.

A statue, urn, sundial, fruit tree, rose bush, or birdbath can go in the very center if you like.

Some simple formal herb garden designs

For those of you with limited space or invasive plants such as mint:

  1. Place potted herbs into a decorative raised bed (or into a dug-out below-ground area) then
  2. surround the pots with a light mulch such as wood chips, straw, or coir to make a potted herb garden.

Pots with annual herbs, plants doing poorly, or ones that won't overwinter outside in your area can be switched out fairly easily, keeping the area looking good all year round.

Parterre, or segmenting plants using partitions, is a common herb garden design technique, especially in more formal gardens.

Dwarf boxwood (not edible) is a popular plant used for parterre hedges but you can also use edible garden hedges such as rosemary or bay laurel. Brick, stone, gravel or tiny decorative fences can also be used to separate your herbs.

Parterre can be used in vegetable and flower gardens too, using tall herbs such as parsley or lavender as partitions.

Parterre in an English garden

The "knot garden" is a parterre made using groups of low, bushy herbs or hedges lined up in interlacing patterns (the most common being a Celtic knot). Knot gardens have to be kept trimmed, and it's best to have an elevated area nearby such as a balcony, a small bridge, or a terraced slope, in order to be able to see the pattern well.

Since most herbs grow quickly, an herb knot garden can be a good way to learn this art form without having to wait years for a woody hedge to grow.

Would you like to talk more about herb garden design with others who love edible landscaping as much as you do? Join the Tasteful Landscape community:


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