The tradition of herb gardening traces back at least to 9th century Europe. Formal gardens of useful plants served medicinal or culinary purposes. A typical garden of the time consisted of well-ordered squares or rows of plants.
By the 20th century standards for herb gardens had loosened. Plants with no practical use found their way into the garden, as gardeners chose herbs for their lovely appearance, feel, or aroma as well as their usefulness. Plus, designs became less rigid, as seen in the freer form of the English cottage garden.
Choosing Herbs for The Garden
Your choice of plants for your herb garden is a personal and individual decision. Of course, the plants must be suited to your conditions—climate, soil, sun, and water. Other than that what you plant depends on what you want to grow and use.
Most, but not all, herbs are herbaceous, which means they do not have woody stems. Rosemary and lavender are two herbs that grow into woody shrubs in temperate. Many popular herbs, including mint, thyme, and oregano, are perennial, which means they return year after year.
Others are annuals, completing their cycle of growth in one year; dill and basil are good examples. Biennial herbs such as parsley grow leaves their first year and set seed their second year.
In addition to having different life cycles, herb plants vary by height; leaf color, shape, and texture; fragrance; flower color and size; and time of blooming. The key to an interesting herb garden is to plant for variety. Choose plants that look their best at different times of the year.
Look for plants that have different types of foliage. Take mints, for example; most have solid green leaves but some varieties have reddish or variegated leaves. Add appeal to the garden by including plants that have distinct textures, even if they don’t have any use other than being fun to touch, like fuzzy-leaved lamb’s ears.
Herb Garden Design Ideas
The design element that has remained consistent between historic and contemporary herb gardens is location: herb gardens belong close to where the herbs will be used. Since herb gardens can be productive and attractive without taking much room, they can fit into small spaces near the house. Following are six simple ways to incorporate herbs into your landscape:
1. Take just two feet along one side of a pathway or sidewalk and plant with herbs.
2. Grow herbs in planters and window boxes along the sunny side of the house. Very the size and shape of planters if possible, use well-drained potting mix, and make sure the containers have drainage holes.
3. Grow herbs inside on a sunny windowsill. Parsley, rosemary, and chives are three of the many herbs that grow well indoors.
4. Build a raised bed on top of a patch of lawn near the house. Fill with well-drained soil. Install a simple irrigation system to make watering easier and more efficient.
5. Create an herb spiral, which is a simple way to grow a lot of herbs in a small amount of space. A link at the end of this article connects to instructions for building an herb spiral.
6. Add herbs to an existing vegetable or flower garden. Herbs mix well with other plants, and may even help attract pollinators and beneficial insects to the garden.
Want to learn more about herb gardening design ideas?
Herb gardening is simple and fun, and lends itself to creativity. There’s plenty of helpful information on the Internet. Start with these four inspiring sites:
You can find lots of great information at A Beginner’s Herb Garden: An Herb Society of America Guide.
Read all about how to Build a Versatile Spiral Herb Garden.
If you need a little inspiration, here’s four herb garden designs from Mother Earth News.
Another great resource can be found at Designing an Herb Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden All-Region Guides.
Lynne Lamstein gardens in Maine and Florida and is currently working on a sustainable landscape. She has a degree in ornamental horticulture from Temple University.