Laying out Your Herb Garden

Formal Herb Garden PhotoPreparing the soil and selecting the plants or seeds is only part of the adventure, now comes the layout. Let's recap for a moment.

You have prepared your soil by amending it and working it to a depth of at least six inches. The site you have selected has at least six hours of sunlight each day, and does not sit in a boggy area or in a spot that's riddled with tree roots. Great start!

Now you should be thinking about how to organize your plot. Good housekeeping will require you to reach all the way to the back of the plot for weeding and harvesting. If you can't do that from the front, you will have to add stepping-stones every few feet for ingress and egress (in and out). You'll also have to consider the heights of the plants you are planning on using, together with their light requirements, especially if portions of your plot receive partial shade.

Formal Herb Garden Layouts

Popular layouts include wagon wheels, half wagon wheels, and fans. Some of these are traditional and have a long history. The three mentioned above can also incorporate architectural elements into their design, like statuary, sundials, birdbaths, and fountains. Gardens that can be viewed from the upper stories of your home lend themselves well to these kinds of designs. The spokes or fan divisions can be made with bark, hedges, small stones, brick, wooden dividers, or prepared plastic edging material.

The plants that you keep in each division of the fan or wheel should be roughly the same size to help maintain the visual illusion. It is also helpful to group plants with similarly colored blooms. Your creativity will really shine through if you try for one of these effects, but you can still have a wonderful herb garden without as much work. For more ideas and some layouts, has a good spread on formal herb gardens: About Formal Herb Gardens

Simple Herb Garden Layouts

A simple rectangle border can be transformed when it becomes an herb patch. Be careful to place taller plants toward the back. Borders that are bounded on one or two sides by walls or fences are more sheltered from the wind and are a better choice, particularly in harsh climates. Laying out your plot like a checkerboard can be very effective, grouping herbs that grow to similar heights and have complementary foliage and blooms.

For example: fennel, garlic, rosemary, pineapple sage, dill, tansy, and lavender can grow quite tall and should be placed at the back of the plot, while basil, cilantro, and rue grow slightly smaller, and thyme, chives, marjoram, woodruff, and oregano can be placed at the front.

Invasive creepers like peppermint, catnip, spearmint, and lemon balm can be contained in pots and placed partway into the soil as focal points. Partially submerged pots can also hold tender perennials (frost sensitive) that you plan on bringing indoors in the fall (like rosemary, ginger, bay leaf, and French lavender).

Mark Your Plants With Popsicle Sticks

If you are planning on planting culinary, medicinal, and decorative herbs, be careful to label each one. Rue and feverfew can be dangerous if ingested in high concentrations, so don't risk confusing them for salad ingredients. Small markers made from Popsicle sticks (or disposable silverware knives) can make it easy for even your children to help you snip small quantities of herbs like thyme and chives for the table. For this purpose, I've always kept a pair of kid sized (blunt tipped) scissors near the kitchen door, along with a small basket.

Special Notes:

Give Herbs Room to Grow
Be sure to give your herbs enough room to grow. Many herb varieties grow fast, much faster than you would expect, and can crowd neighbors.

Cut Herbs Back When Necessary
Herbs are naturally hardy, so don't be afraid to cut back dill, fennel, and basil when they start to get leggy or too large. This is a great opportunity to harvest them.

Herb Bolting
Many herbs will bolt when the weather gets hot too fast. Bolting is a process in which herbs begin to direct all of their energies toward flowering and setting seed. It's a survival mechanism. To encourage your plants to slow down and apply more attention to leafing, pinch off flower buds as they begin to appear. If you don't take this measure, your plants will grow long and spindly, producing seeds and little else.

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