Got questions?
Ask Sara!

Send email to sara@superbherbs.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

History of Garden Design
The Persian Carpet Influence
The Greeks and Romans—Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Early Herb Gardens
Formal Gardens
Early Gardening in America
Cottage Gardens and Gertrude Jekyll

Your Herb Garden
Designing a Formal Garden
Knot Gardens
Topiary
Making a Standard
Training into Shapes
Informal Gardens
Designing an Informal Garden

Sara's Garden

 

Your Herb Garden
Many questions come to mind when people ask me about designing herb gardens. The most compelling one I ask them is how much time do you have to devote to maintenance? The answer determines how big the garden is, whether or not to garden in containers, whether to make it very formal or opt for the wild-type of look, and what kind of plants to use-annuals, perennials, tender perennials, or a mix. Of course, budget plays a big part in this, too. The easiest to design, plant, and maintain is a small space, especially if you are new to this. A 6 to 8 foot square or round garden will suffice. You can always expand it or change the shape of it as it grows and your breadth of knowledge gets bigger as well.

Where to put the garden is the question I'm asked most often, and to that I say look out your kitchen window for inspiration. If you're like me, you'll find a zillion reasons to trek back and forth between the herbs and the kitchen every day of the growing season. Every meal, every iced tea, every cut and burn is yet another reason for siting the garden close to where you'll be making the concoctions. You'll need a sunny spot with good air circulation and easy access to a water spigot. If container gardening is your thing, a sunny deck or patio is the most logical spot.

Stake out the garden with string or, if it's curved, use a garden hose to make the shape and size. Dig out the sod, amend the soil with old compost or well-rotted manure, and you're on your way. Choose the herbs you think you want, and draw a little sketch to scale on a piece of paper. You can always move plants around when you get them, but read the labels on the plants to judge how far apart to put them and how tall they will get so you won't be blocking light from low-growing plants.

Designing a Formal Garden
Formal herb gardens are geometric, usually subdivided by paths or dwarf hedges into symmetrical compartments much like those in France, except on a much smaller scale and with plants in the compartments rather than gravel. The overall aim of this type of garden is to create a pattern. A potager, an ornamental, formal garden in which herbs mingle with fruit and vegetables, is a good way to make use of small spaces. This area can be divided into neat, rectangular beds at ground level or raised up, which makes crop rotation easy.

We first encounter the prototype of the French kitchen garden, or potager, during the Middle Ages in the monastery beds at St. Gall. Its apogee can be found at the gardens of Villandry, created in the early 20th century by Dr. Joachim Carvallo (1869-1936). The centerpiece of the garden is a series of nine box-edged squares containing a wide variety of vegetables grown for their appearance as well as their taste. Villandry led the cult for ornamental vegetables-notably purple and green cabbages, ruby chard, and colored lettuce. When Rosemary Verey tired of her conventional vegetable garden, she began reading William Lawson's 17th century work, The Country Housewife's Garden. This inspired her to create a new kitchen garden at Barnsley House, her Cotswold manor house in Gloucestershire, England. For the actual planting, she turned to the garden of Villandry. She designed a 75' square garden, no bigger than necessary to feed a family and capable of being tended by one person. She divided it into four quarters, which happens to be ideally suited to crop rotation. She chose to brick-in the paths on a sand base. These, in time, settled, giving them a casual, non-professional look. To achieve height, she used climbing vegetables and fruit trees. Her controlling idea was, and still is, to plant in decorative ways with color and texture patterns. The small beds allow for new plant combinations each year.

Visitors to Disneyland and Williamsburg, Virginia love to photograph the topiary, and one can see English ivy trained to grow over wire shapes of giraffes, camels, and hippos in the New York Botanical Garden Conservatory. If any of these examples excite you to try your hand at topiary, be aware that it will take patience and time, and once you have achieved the shape, you will need to continue to shear your masterpiece forever. But, as Lewis Hill, a noted Vermont gardener says, "a thing of beauty is a job forever."

A formal garden will require much more planning than an informal one. Decisions about the shape of the garden, what will go in the middle, how the paths will be laid out, what herbs will go in each compartment will have to be made. Careful measuring will also be required. Will there be stonework or brickwork, or will there be paths of grass or fragrant low-growing herbs? The height of plants is important also in placing the herbs in a border or in the middle. The formal types require upkeep, but they're really fun to plant and watch grow.

Next