No matter how small your garden space is, including a herb garden in the planting scheme is a rewarding and exciting idea. My interest in gardens as an adult stemmed from a herb garden Matt built for me on the sloping roof outside the kitchen window of the first floor flat in West London we rented when we first left university. We didn’t have a garden and really wanted to grow a few plants outdoors – this was the perfect solution. Easy to care for and suited to a compact space, herbs are the perfect answer for a productive horticultural experience in small space gardening.
Humans have used herbs for food and medicine for all of recorded history. Gardeners in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome all included them in their courtyard plots or in containers to have them close at hand.
In Europe during the Renaissance, the knowledge of early civilizations was coming to light through texts and manuscripts. There was a great interest in useful plants, and herbs were collected, classified and studied as never before. Physic Gardens - places to grow plants for apothecaries (early pharmacists cum doctors) – were created by some of the most wealthy and influential families of Europe. The first physic garden was built in 1543 at the University in Pisa. Later gardens were created in Padua, Florence and in England. The Chelsea Physic garden, near the banks of the Thames in London, was built by the Royal Society of Apothecaries in 1673. Most of these gardens still exist today and are open to the public.
The idea of having tiny versions of every herb at your fingertips is appealing. Pruning and pinching will keep plants compact and bushy, but some herbs are meant to grow three feet tall. A mini herb garden is a collection of herbs grown in a compact space. Confining the herbs to a small planting bed or to a collection of pots will make your herb garden miniature. Potted herbs grow well both indoors and out with the right amounts of light, water and proper soil.
You can grow herbs in pots on your patio. Multiple herbs in multiple pots is one way, but think even smaller – choose one low, wide-mouthed pot and plant several herbs together in the same pot. If the herbs you choose have the same water, soil and sun requirements, they’ll be perfectly happy to share a pot. For example, chives, basil and parsley will all thrive in the same pot. Or use a strawberry jar. The individual openings can house different herbs while the tower-shape conserves space.
Before you decide on an herb garden design there are a few questions you should ask yourself:
- 1. How much space do you have to set aside for your garden?
- 2. How large do you want your garden to be?
- 3. How much time do you have to dedicate to your garden?
- 4. What herbs do you want to grow?
- 5. What do you intend to use your herbs for?
You might want to start with culinary herbs – the most popular and useful and staple plants would include Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Mint, Oregano and Chives. There are obviously a lot more, but the great thing about herb gardens is you can start small and add to it as you go. If you fancied being more adventurous you could consider doing medicinal and herbs for clothes dying as well. The National Herb Centre is a great source of information on different types of herbs as well as offering a mail order service online.
To give your herb garden a designer feel, why not make it into a decorative feature with herbs as the planting theme. Traditional herb gardens were laid out in geometric patterns. The plants could be organized according to use, botanical relationships, country of origin or appearance. Formal versions in the Elizabethan period in England had neatly clipped herbs in elaborate knot or maze configurations. Later gardeners took a looser, more organic approach, arranging plants in pleasing masses that accentuated color, form and texture. Most have structural elements that contrast with the plantings.
So how to design your herb garden – what to construct it from?
Consider re-cyled junk – see our earlier article on this, old crates, old tin cans, use a herb wheel (like a cartwheel), make a herb spiral, make the herb bed like a patchwork quilt and make a feature of it, using old shoes, hats or crockery.
Consider the location of your herb garden, as this will determine what herbs you can grow. Some herbs require full sunshine to thrive. The most important thing to look at in the design of your herb garden is the colour and texture of the plants ( there are plenty to choose from ) and using these qualities combined with repetition will guarantee you a beautiful (and tasty) display years to come.