How To Design a Herb Garden

You don't need a landscaper's certificate to design your own herb garden but if you like well-designed gardens then a few design classes can't hurt. If you've ever marveled at the difference in taste between dried and fresh herbs, you know that it's worth the time and effort to plant your own herb garden.  You may be surprised to learn that herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow.  Planning an herb garden design is just as easy--and lots of fun!

  1. Choose a site for your herb garden.  The ideal site will have full sun for most of the day.  Six hours of sunlight per day is preferable for most herbs.  It will be large enough to plant all the herbs you want to try, but not so large that its upkeep overwhelms you.  It should have well-drained soil.  Most herbs are native to Mediterranean and tropical areas, so they don't like to have waterlogged roots.  And, last but not least, it should be near your house, preferably your kitchen.  After all, how often will you go out to harvest herbs from your garden if it's a trek across the backyard in inclement weather?
  2. Decide which herbs you want to grow.  If you want to plant a culinary herb garden, keep track of which herbs you use in cooking most frequently.  Determine how much space you'll need for these frequently-used herbs, then select several more that you'd like to try.  Choose herbs that are well-suited to your garden location and that have similar needs.
  3. Determine which herbs need their own space.  Some plants, such as most in the mint family, tend to be invasive if given a chance.  Plant them in a container, then sink the whole container into your garden soil.  This way, you can have some mint in your herb garden, instead of having a mint garden!
  4. Decide if you want a formal or informal herb garden.  Herbs lend themselves to formal design very well.  A very common design for a formal herb garden is a circle with "spokes" radiating from the center, perhaps with a sculpture in the center.  The spokes can be bricks, railroad ties, or whatever strikes your fancy.  Within each wedge, plant one or two varieties of herbs.  Another common design is a large square divided into smaller squares.  If your herb garden is large enough, the squares could even be divided by paths large enough to walk on, with perhaps each square an herb garden in itself.  One advantage of formal herb gardens is that they look tidy, which may encourage you to harvest your herbs more often.  Another advantage is that it's easy to divide herbs with different needs, such as perennials and annuals, or those that prefer a little more moisture than others. 

    Informal gardens can also be quite charming.  In an informal garden, feel free to intersperse your herb plantings with flowers or even vegetables.

  5. Start drawing your garden on paper.  Considering all the points above, map out your garden.  When deciding which plant should go where, remember to group those with similar needs and growing seasons together.  Also think about form.  If you plant a bay tree next to low-growing thyme, the thyme isn't going to get the full amount of sunlight that it needs.  When you're happy with your design, mark it out in your garden site, using a garden hose or string.
  6. Prepare your soil, if necessary.  Most plants grow better in well-prepared soil.  Herbs are an exception to this rule.  They will develop a better flavor if they are slightly stressed.  While you should be sure that they receive all the nutrients they need, don't coddle them too much, or you'll have herbs with a bland, boring taste.
  7. Drive away the bugs.  Most herbs are naturally pest-resistant, but if you have an exceptionally buggy yard, you can plant a deterrent, such as marigolds, along the border of your herb garden.

If you don't like an herb you've tried in your garden, yank it out and try something different.  There are no mistakes when gardening--only opportunities to try your hand at a new plant.  Once you have the garden design bug, you may want to expand and update your entire garden and/or backyard - online courses in design can help you with this.  Happy gardening!


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