Design your own herb garden
If you’ve decided to grow your own food, think further than just vegetables and consider a herb garden.
Herbs are not only good companions for vegetables, but are also nutritionally rich, less demanding to grow, harvestable all year round, and there is no better way to naturally flavour food. August is a good time to plan your herb garden or decide on how to incorporate herbs into the veggie garden. By September you should be ready to plant. Although it is human nature to plunge in headfirst, the best way to get the most from your herb garden is to have a plan. Planning a herb garden involves deciding on a theme, selecting the site, creating the design and drawing up a herb list.
Start by selecting a theme, whether it is culinary or healing, or maybe a bit of both. For a culinary garden it could be as simple as choosing your favourite cooking herbs. The nine major culinary herbs are basil, chives, marjoram, mint, parsley, rosemary, savory, sage, thyme. Another option is to concentrate on herbs for a specific cuisine, or to include herbs with edible flowers or fruit-flavoured leaves that can be used in salads, punches and desserts, like rosemary, basil, pineapple sage, borage, mint, lemon verbena and lemon thyme. Many of the culinary herbs have healing properties too. A first-aid garden is a good starting point and could include such dual-purpose herbs as thyme (antiviral and antibacterial), sage (antiseptic), parsley (immune boosting), rosemary (antimicrobial and soothing) and peppermint (relieves itching and inflammation when applied topically). Herbal teas are soothing, delicious and the safest way to ingest herbs, provided that you don’t drink more than three cups a day for longer than a week. Consider fruity herbs like bergamot, lemon verbena, lemon thyme, rose geranium, chamomile, chocolate mint, English lavender and lemon balm.
A patio herb garden in containers offers year-round flavour and fragrance. Suitable herbs for containers include basil, chervil, chives, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme.
Having settled on a theme, decide whether you want to grow herbs in containers or in the garden on a site that will fit in with the rest of the garden. Be realistic about what you can achieve in terms of your enthusiasm, space, time, energy and money. Herb gardens do best in a sheltered, sunny position near the house for quick and easy picking. Morning sun or afternoon sun is adequate, as full sun, especially in summer, can be too harsh. The area should also be reasonably level and have well-drained fertile soil. Do not worry if the soil is a bit heavy – adding lots of compost when preparing the soil should improve the texture and drainage. One of the advantages of herbs is that they can be planted almost anywhere. If you don’t have the space to devote to a herb garden, look for spots between flowers or groundcovers in your garden. Many herbs double as perennials or shrubs. Don’t discard the idea of a few herbs in containers. Herbs are exceptionally easy to grow as pot plants.
Features of a formal herb garden design
- Straight lines and geometric shapes that are framed by low hedges and paths.
- Balance is key, with elements arranged around a central axis. A fountain, shrub (usually topiary) or bench usually forms a focal point.
- The best formal design for a novice consists of two intersecting pathways. This basic design can be expanded by forming a path around the perimeter or by extending the crossed paths.
- Another popular formal design is the wagon wheel. Use bricks or stones for the spokes and rim, with your herbs in the pie-shaped segments in between.
Designing your herb garden is the creative part. Browse through as many herb books, magazines and websites as you can. The two basic styles are formal or informal, and the style should complement the rest of the garden and the architecture of your house.
Features of an informal herb garden design
- The lines are more flowing, with curved beds and walkways that give plenty of scope for growing a wide variety of herbs. This design fits in more easily with most contemporary gardens and homes.
- The aesthetic effect depends on plant combinations and groupings. Flowers and shrubs can be added. A good planting plan is still important.
- This design usually needs less initial structural work and is easier and less costly to maintain
Make a complete list of all the herbs that will fit in with your theme and then check availability with the local garden centre. To avoid the mistake of starting with too many herbs, break up your list into ‘Must have’, ‘Nice to have’ and ‘Not really necessary’. Your final list should be between 5 and 10 herbs, which is a good number to start with. The herbs should also be divided into annuals and perennials, and further classified according to height. Check with your design to make sure the heights conform to your concept.
Lay out the herb garden, build or make the pathways, and prepare the beds by adding plenty of compost and other organic material. Once these steps have been done you will be ready to visit your nearest garden centre in September.