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Home > Herb Gardening > Herb Garden Design
Herb Garden Design
Herb Garden DesignTraditional herb gardens were laid out in geometric patterns/ desgins. The plants could be organized according to use, botanical relationships, country of origin or appearance. 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. These can be brick paths, stone containers, walls, metal gates or statuary. Contemporary versions show a wide variety of influences, and range from formal to casual.

Herb gardens are defined not by their organization but by the plants grown in them. If an herb is a plant with a use as a seasoning, fragrance, dye, fiber, or medicine, then an herb garden is a garden of useful plants. But don`t be surprised to find species that have never had any practical application alongside the useful plants in today`s ornamental herb gardens-some plants are simply too appealing to be excluded on purely technical grounds. Besides, our habit of dividing plants into the "useful" and the "ornamental" is relatively new. In medieval Europe virtually all plants were assumed to have some medicinal value. In the Renaissance, medicine, botany, and horticulture began to diverge, but they were slow to part ways and did not really separate for several centuries.

Garden layouts that date back to medieval and Renaissance Europe continue to strongly influence modern herb gardeners. Though we know very little about the dooryard gardens of simpler households-the ancestors of informal cottage herb gardens, in which useful plants were grown close to hand in unstructured plantings-we do have some knowledge about the structured gardens of the great medieval monasteries and royal palaces.This type of plan is still used today in our own vegetable gardens and is ideal for herb gardens, making it easy to cultivate and harvest the herbs and rotate short-lived crops of salad herbs and annuals. It is both functional in form and visually pleasing in its simplicity and neatness.

Not all medieval gardens were purely utilitarian. Unlike the gardens of the St. Gall plan, the small, private pleasure garden or "herber" was a place of beauty and refreshment rather than a home for useful plants. In the 13th century, Albertus Magnus gave directions for laying out an herber, recommending that the lawn at the center of the garden be surrounded by borders of sweet-smelling herbs such as rue, basil, and sage. These early pleasure gardens emphasized elements we still associate with our own ornamental herb gardens: enclosure, intimacy, and fragrance.

The Renaissance also gave rise to the collector`s garden, in which botanists organized their plants according to scientific principles and plantsmen exhibited horticultural rarities. Though many new plants were grown, the gardens themselves remained geometric in form and fairly simple in their organization, and their descent from the gardens of the Middle Ages is very clear.

As in the Middle Ages, formal gardens of the Renaissance favored all sorts of enclosures-brick, stone, wattle fencing, or hedges-to keep out animals and intruders. Throughout the 17th century, the practice of enclosing household gardens persisted. Even today, kitchen gardens are often enclosed for practical reasons. Lately gardeners have become increasingly interested in the ornamental qualities of the herb garden. In the last 20 years the plant list has greatly expanded as new color forms and cultivars of herbs long grown for their usefulness have been developed. Many foliage plants that are considered herblike in texture, form, or fragrance are now admitted to the herb garden. Experiments with color in the herb garden have also inspired the inclusion of many purely ornamental flowering plants. At the same time, plants appreciated for their medicinal or other uses continue to find new homes among more traditional garden herbs. This trend may be the logical outcome of the ornamental herb garden`s evolution as a distinct garden type, but our definition of herb garden has become a little vague-how can we distinguish an herb garden with a mixture of perennials and ornamental annuals from a perennial garden or a mixed border that includes a large number of herbs? Perhaps the proportion of useful herbs to ornamentals doesn`t matter. The important thing is to keep growing herbs and create our own place in a long tradition.

There are no hard-and-fast rules to follow when one is designing a herb garden. It may be as simple as tucking them among the flowers and vegetables in existing beds or grouping them in terra cotta pots on the patio. If you feel you would like to plan a separate area just for herbs, these are a few ideas that will make your garden easier to maintain and enjoy. Make a list of herbs that you would like to grow, and divide the list into annuals and perennials. The annuals can be further divided into cool-season and warm-season herbs. Some gardeners plant annuals together in one section of the garden and fill in after these have died with annuals for the next season. In this manner, you won`t leave empty spaces in the garden.

Herbs need good drainage, and most of them need at least six hours of sunlight daily. A few herbs that can tolerate some shade are lemon balm, mints, tarragon, and parsley. Herbs are quite resistant to insect problems but do require gentle pruning. Cut the growth tips to force growth from the base and to encourage branching.

A simple and classic design is a square plot dissected diagonally by paths with a centered bed containing a bay tree, rosemary, tree rose, or birdbath. To make your garden unique, consider selecting a theme such as a garden for hummingbirds, bees, potpourri, tea, medicinal, or culinary. Keep in mind texture, shapes, and color in your planning. And finally, incorporate a bench nearby so you can enjoy all the fine fragrances from your herb garden.

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