Growing a Gorgeous Herb Garden

Part Two Of The Series

This is part two of a lengthy series I plan to post here on the art of growing your own herbs. From planning and designing the garden, to providing the best environment, to harvesting your lode, this series will lead you through it.  To read part one of the series, please go to How To Grow Your Own Herbs .

There are a lot of rewards for growing your own herbs. One is that you always have a ready supply of fresh, healthy plants. Even better, you control their environment so you know what chemicals and fertilizers have been used, if any, and what their dangers are. There is no travel time from your own garden, making the herbs as fresh as they could ever be. You clean them yourself, picking through them carefully, ensuring that you get the best part of the plant rather than the high ratio of stems and debris you get when you buy shaker or bottled herbs.

So here is the second increment in my series. In this section, I am going to show you how to plan your garden. This should be done only after you have decided on what kind of Garden you are going to create. Remember that the work you do up front will be rewarded a hundred times over during the coming seasons as you harvest gorgeous herbs year round.

In part one, you should have been able to select the area of your yard most appropriate for a Herb garden. And based upon that area, the shade, the soil, the size and the accessibility of the area should dictate the type of Garden you are able to create. So, once you have selected your site, you should decide on the style of Garden you want. Whether it will be a formal scheme following a geometric pattern, a traditional Herb Garden, a Theme Garden or a casual grouping that creates its own shape and style. If you have an idea about a theme of your own, one that you would like to design, then go for it. Creativity rules the matter and you can’t go wrong. The style of your home and general neighborhood will help to dictate whether the garden should be formal or informal, traditional or Avant-Guard. Formal Herb Gardens are based on patterns and geometric shapes with beds and paths designed to give a sense of order and balance to the eye as well as easy access to plants along well defined pathways and walls. Traditional Gardens often have sparse planting schemes, with few plants and a strong emphasis on only a few species. The exuberant natural growth of Herbs do encourage containment and many gardeners choose to contrast the wildness of the plants with a conservative garden scheme.


Garden Photo: Tulsa Garden Center

In informal Gardens, planted are massed together and allowed to grow wildly, in masses of color and texture. Often Gardeners mingle flowers and vegetables among the Herbs, creating stark contrasts in a more natural setting. The effect of an informal Garden is spontaneous and romantic. But these types of Gardens require planning so that neighboring plants complement each other and do not threaten space. Sun exposure, wind, rainfall and shade all have to be considered when piling in the plants. Access to plants should also be planned for, with walkways providing access to various plants for maintenance, pruning and weeding.

Once you have selected the site you must measure its sides and prepare to draw up this area on a squared grid. Graph paper works well. Make each square on the Grid represent a convenient measure, preferably in inches. This is the most manageable design technique even for large Gardens. Always start the measurements from a baseline that is parallel to your house or at a right angle to it. Draw out the measured outline of the site in clear, bold lines and don’t forget to draw in whatever fixtures must remain such as outdoor faucets, hose outlets, existing walls and fences, trees, etc… Try to be accurate. Also do not forget to include any rises or slopes in the topography that may require upward tiling, raised beds, steps or walls.

If you are choosing to create a more formal Garden such as an English Herb Garden, a Knot Garden, an Italian Renaissance Garden, etc… then it would benefit you to obtain books or read blogs on these creations, looking carefully at pictures and creating your actual Garden in these forms. If you choose to specialize, such as in culinary herbs or medicinal plants or aromatic blooms, then your design should take into consideration the accessibility of these assets. A close proximity to the kitchen, for instance, or a downwind location for the wafting of luscious perfumes.

What are your production goals? How much you want to harvest will influence not only the size and position but the style of Garden you create. Perhaps you want to grow enough Basil and Oregano to make pasta sauce and pesto every week. Or perhaps you want a variety of colorful, scented Herbs available on a regular basis to make large batches of Potpourri. Your plans must allow space for the type and size of plants you want to grow. Consider also where you will supply water and how. A large complicated design will demand a lot more water to be delivered in more diverse ways. A simple small Garden will require only once source perhaps in a straight line. Consider this in your design. If you plan to mulch the Garden, how easy it is to access all areas of the garden and how much mulch will it take? How often must it be changed out and how will the water supply effect it? Will it run downhill? Will it pool in the center of the garden? Consider this when designing and choosing various components of the Garden.

If you are starting a new Garden, how much of an investment can you afford to make in soil amendments, plants, seeds, soil, watering equipment, tools and structures? If you’re unsure about resources, it’s best to start with a small, informal, uncomplicated Garden and extend that Garden when you gain more experience and know your limits.

When you feel ready, try some designs with tracing paper laid over the site plan. Establish the overall design before filling in details and be prepared to toss out pages as you go. Eventually you will know when the design feels right. Don’t be afraid to take lots of time and make a lot of mistakes. Getting the plan down correctly, though, will save you much misery in the actual building and maintenance of the Garden.


Gorgeous Garden Photo: BBC

Once the design feels right, you may mark in possible paths, beds and various details. It is here where you will decide whether you prefer a free flowing design or gravitate more to a more formal pattern. Some patterns that are commonly used in Herb Gardening are the Brick Circle, with a wall of bricks circling the Garden and providing a crisscross of brick paths as a cross in the center; the Brick Diamond with brick pathways creating a Diamond shape around the Garden and then providing an X shaped ingress of pathways within the Diamond; the Square within a Square, where hedges provide a square enclosure that is duplicated with brick pathways and walls and the pathways extend outward through the hedges; Oblongs and Right Angles, where a very long Oblong Garden is created with brick pathways and Right Angle “Deck” type areas are created with large standing and kneeling areas made of brick. Very complicated formal Gardens include designs of diagonal paths, interlocking diamonds, wheel beds and diamonds and squares. Be sure you have the financial resources, assets, time and energy for creating, building and maintaining Herb Gardens of this size and complexity. Practice on some simpler, smaller designs first. Visit Herb Gardens in your city and look them over. In due time, you will gain the experience and assets to expand to such exotic schemes.

When you are done with your basic design, hold it up to a mirror to check balance. If it is off balance, redraw it or adjust it in some way to correct the differential. If you do decide to design a formal scheme, make a loose grid of lines on the plan based on surroundings. Extend the lines of the house, doors, windows, garage, shed, walls and other boundaries so that you have a maze of lines from which to select your pathways. Pathways should line up closely with all existing structures and be easy to access.

In the matter of access, in creating your design, you should make sure that no Herb is more than 2.5 feet from any pathway and beds should measure no more than 5 feet across at any point. Choose the tiles or bricks you wish to use for pathways based on their feel in the general landscape, the color they lend to the Garden and the shapes they add. Never put a path straight through a Herb space. Consider adding levels to paths and such amenities as kneeling space, sitting areas, shade repositories, Archways, Gazebos or Garden Sculptures.

Your design should now be an interesting pattern of lines. This is the time to take your imagination into the 3D world around us. Imagine where the pathways will fall, how the layers will look in the existing landscape. Consider adding different levels or other elements of interest. Decide at this time what time of enclosure you want to use: a wooden fence, a series of archways, a brick wall, hedges, trellises, brick fences, etc… You may wish to hide the Garden for privacy or show it off in the neighborhood. Place a chair outside where you plan to place the Garden and stick some long bamboo canes into the ground, to give you an idea about height and exposure.

A simple plan for a small but useful Herb Garden can be based on a grid of 16- inch squares as most mature Herbs will fit comfortably in this space and 16″ is the minimum width suitable for most pathways. Starting with this basis, any number of variations can be worked out on the grid or graph paper. Measure up the squares in the Garden and mark the design with lines and pegs. This design can work well on an even larger scale but this smaller design is only 9 feet square and will accommodate over 25 Herbs. Leave out Mint because it is a rampant grower and will swallow the whole space in a season and if you are in a cold region, you must leave out Basil as it will die in frosty weather.

As an example, choose a tall terra cotta potor other solid structure for the center point of the proposed Garden. For the lack of other structures, you may even build a hollow heap of stones for placement there. Make sure it is solidly set upon the Earth and will not tumble. Fill it with soil and plant a stout Angelica, Rosemary or Lemon Verbena plant. If you choose a large tree such as Bay or Myrtle, you will have to clip it often. Or, alternatively, place a bench or small deck in the center of where you plan to place the Garden. This provides an anchor the overall design of the Garden and you begin the hard work.

When you have a fairly clear vision of the Garden you would like, you can now draw together all the various elements in a final design. Again, be sure that you have measured the garden or plot and marked its outline on the graph paper, within size conformity’s and added all existing structures such as shrubs and existing pathways or benches. Always remember to consider features such as large existing trees that cast shade, water spigots that drip water, fences with missing slats that direct wind, etc… The smaller your design, the easier all of this will be and for a very small, informal garden you might be able to skip this planning stage altogether. Always be aware of the illusion of size. It often seems there is more room in a garden or yard than there actually is. If you plan to use considerable space, always measure, measure, measure to be sure. You don’t want your garden to hopelessly cramped, much to sprawling, difficult to maintain, exposed to the wrong elements or upended by spreading tree roots.

As you go, work out planting schemes for individual beds and borders on separate sheets of paper only when you are satisfied with the garden design and the work you’ve done so far. You can try out possible variations of beds and sizes on the ground by using tiles, boxes and other space markers. Make basic adjustments on paper as they arise. In addition to these drawn plans and pictures, you should also draw up a proposed schedule for the work involved because the tasks involved in the actual building of the Garden are often done in a particular order and each step takes a certain amount of time. You want to encounter the least amount of disorder, mess and delay. You don’t want to leave things undone as you rush off to other obligations. Planting itself will be the final operation and should be timed to be done in Autumn in hot areas and in the Spring where Winters are cold. Before you even begin the garden, you will need to prune existing plants, repair existing structures, remove old tiles or upgrade existing pathways. Check water sources and plan out where it will come from and how it will be distributed. Should you use leaker hoses or should you use misting? It will depend on the size and accessibility of the garden you design. You will need to weed and work the soil. You will need to clear a lot of stuff out to make room for the new. All of these chores need to be considered and timed out in order so that they are accomplished in the right order as well as within the right time frame.Before transferring your design to the ground, drive pegs into the ground securely and join with strings or twine to mark out the basic outline. You can then begin to imagine the next steps in your garden design: the digging of beds, the laying of tiles and bricks, the placing of structures and the planting of your Herb Garden.

As you go, work out planting schemes for individual beds and borders on separate sheets of paper only when you are satisfied with the garden design and the work you’ve done so far. You can try out possible variations of beds and sizes on the ground by using tiles, boxes and other space markers. Make basic adjustments on paper as they arise. In addition to these drawn plans and pictures, you should also draw up a proposed schedule for the work involved because the tasks involved in the actual building of the Garden are often done in a particular order and each step takes a certain amount of time. You want to encounter the least amount of disorder, mess and delay. You don’t want to leave things undone as you rush off to other obligations. Planting itself will be the final operation and should be timed to be done in Autumn in hot areas and in the Spring where Winters are cold. Before you even begin the garden, you will need to prune existing plants, repair existing structures, remove old tiles or upgrade existing pathways. Check water sources and plan out where it will come from and how it will be distributed. Should you use soaker hoses or should you use misters? It will depend on the size and accessibility of the garden you design. You will need to weed and work the soil. You will need to clear a lot of stuff out to make room for the new. All of these chores need to be considered and timed out in order so that they are accomplished in the right order as well as within the right time frame.

I hope this helps you in creating and starting your beautiful Herb Garden. By Fall, you should have a gorgeous harvest that will stay you through the worst of Winters.


Traditional English Herb Garden: Coton Manor

As you go, work out planting schemes for individual beds and borders on separate sheets of paper only when you are satisfied with the garden design and the work you’ve done so far. You can try out possible variations of beds and sizes on the ground by using tiles, boxes and other space markers. Make basic adjustments on paper as they arise. In addition to these drawn plans and pictures, you should also draw up a proposed schedule for the work involved because the tasks involved in the actual building of the Garden are often done in a particular order and each step takes a certain amount of time. You want to encounter the least amount of disorder, mess and delay. You don’t want to leave things undone as you rush off to other obligations. Planting itself will be the final operation and should be timed to be done in Autumn in hot areas and in the Spring where Winters are cold. Before you even begin the garden, you will need to prune existing plants, repair existing structures, remove old tiles or upgrade existing pathways. Check water sources and plan out where it will come from and how it will be distributed. Should you use soaker hoses or should you use misters? It will depend on the size and accessibility of the garden you design. You will need to weedand work the soil. You will need to clear a lot of stuff out to make room for the new. All of these chores need to be considered and timed out in order so that they are accomplished in the right order as well as within the right time frame. To continue on to part three of this series, go to Growing a Gorgeous Herb Garden 2

Geffrye Museum Herb Garden: Garden Visit

UPDATE MARCH 2012:

NOW AVAILABLE!  Harmony Green has gathered all of the posts on Herb Gardening and on harvesting and using Herbs and created a single eBook. How To Create a Gorgeous Herb Garden is now available and has everything you need to both create a gorgeous garden this year and to harvest and use the herbs year round. From articles on choosing the proper site to tending the garden to harvesting, the book also outlines uses for herbs from medicinals to massage oils as well as for cooking and cleaning. Learn to create bee and butterfly gardens, learn the secrets to growing herbs indooors, see how easy it is to propagate herbs of all kinds and create a productive potted or container garden on your patio among many other things. This book has it all. In PDF format, this book can be read on any e-reader or on your desktop. Purchase and upload it here for only $3.99:

Buy Now

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  1. 1

    [...] This should give you a general idea of whether you are able and willing to do the work necessary to create a prolific herb garden. If you decide that this project is something you have the time, money and energy to persue, check back here often for updates on putting your new garden together.  To continue to part two of this series, please go to Growing a Gorgeous Herb Garden [...]


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