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Before even considering an herb garden, it[s good to take serious stock of your space and time constraints. Tending a small, well considered garden is much easier than creating something elaborate that requires on-going maintenance. On the other hand, a more complex herb garden (such as a knot style described later herein) also becomes a landscaping feature that can increase the value of your property.

Another good consideration is your budget. Small spaces are easier on the pocketbook. And if you choose perennials (plants like lavender, sage, and chives) that return year after year, you’ll also cut down on household spice expenses! So for beginners it’s suggested that you begin with about 6’ square of soil in an area where you can expand the garden later if desired.

With that bit of advice out of the way, where exactly do you want your garden?
Traditionally, if you’re growing for household use vs. visual impact you’ll want to position the garden so its close to the kitchen or a household access point. That way, even in bad weather, you have fast, accessible fresh herbs with which to cook. Beyond this, look for a spot with good sun coverage, healthy soil, and drainage.

If you’re not certain about your soil’s content, take a sample to a local greenhouse or nursery for testing so you know if you’ll need fertilizer, etc.

Another thing to ponder is local wildlife. If there are deer, rabbits, squirrels etc., they’re very likely to want to munch on your lovely garden. So having the garden near the house deters that somewhat, as to fences, human hair trimmings, etc. Anything that says “human” will help keep your garden from being eaten by morning.

Step three is design. The formal garden typically has a sense of geometry to it, and walkways through which you can easily tend the land and access the herbs. Many people mix herbs and vegetables or fruits into this type of array for three reasons: leveling, color, and overall usability. Let’s face it, there’s only so much mint most households need in a year (for example) and that herb grows heartily. The blended garden gives the creator a chance to have tall items in the middle or back and slowly tier down, while mixing and mingling colors for a pleasing pallet.

It’s easiest to divide a formal garden into rectangular sections that are partitioned off using stone, wood, landscaping fabric, etc. so that in the years ahead you can easily rotate your crop and keep the soil healthy. Why the landscaping fabric? When used correctly this material keeps out unwanted weeds for several years (most gardeners really appreciate this!). For height, look to climbing vegetation like peas or a fruit tree as a center point. Using that center, figure out how you want paths (access points or sitting points) laid out. People who enjoy tea or books outside would do well to use the center for a stylized “get away” to which at least one of the garden’s paths lead.

There are some highly recognizable types of formal herb gardens including a knot garden. This was often composted of aromatics like lavender and sage set near boxwoods that created a backdrop. This particular style was very popular in the Medieval period when nobility had full time staff to tend the hedges and maintain the pattern. This is not the type of garden most folk with a 9-5 job can keep up! Nonetheless, the herbs highlighted with various border flowers certainly made for quite a lovely view.

If you’re feeling hearty, you’ll want to design your knot garden on paper first . It also helps to use small stones to mark out that design on the soil (kind of like having black and white outlines in which to color). From here plant the herbs as desired, giving them space in which you can cut and shape them into the knot.

A second type of herb garden is the topiary. This is simply the art of cutting plants into shapes and patterns. We see examples of this type of garden in both ancient Rome and Japan, among other regions. The nice thing for people with limited space is that you can have potted herbs that you train formally into topiary too. Be aware that it does take some time and patience to learn how to shape a plant into something recognizable, but it is a lot of fun to try.

The busy green-thumb, however, may wish to stick with informal gardens that have a more organic feel to them. Mix textures and colors, themes and decorations – be whimsical and spur of the moment! This type of garden is never really “done” because you continue to tinker with it even as you might that recipe for roast beef you’ve been perfecting for years. About the only thing that’s really recommended is labeling.

One green leafy thing can end up looking a lot like another green leafy thing after all your herbs grow in. You also probably want some weed guards so you don’t end up harvesting dandelion when you really wanted something else!
The informal garden can have a theme or focus too without getting overly complex. For example, perhaps you want savory herbs for making homemade vinegars and oils as gifts. Or, if you’re a seamstress you could grow herbs for making your own dye. Then too there’s medicinal gardens, herb and rock gardens, potpourri herb gardens, well .. you get the idea!
Let your garden reflect your life.

As you’re making the final choice for the inhabitants of your landscape, remember that you want plants suited to your soil and seasons. Seeds and seedlings usually come with information sheets that indicate how much sun and water the plant requires, and when best to plant for best results. Beyond this, you’ll also want to control some plants that can easily take over every space you have. Mint was mentioned previously in this article. There’s no question mint will grow and spread unless you keep it in small pots. Note that you can recess the pots so the height of the herb matches everything else, while still neatly keeping the rest of your garden intact.


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