Herb Garden Design – Theme Gardens.

Another approach to garden design is to focus on a common feature, or themes – such as herbs that are medicinal, herbs used for cooking, or herbs that attract butterflies. Theme gardens can also feature a common color – such as an all-white garden. You might base your design on plants that have special significance. A Shakespearean garden, for instance, includes the Renaissance herbs mentioned in the plays of Shakespeare. Biblical gardens feature herbs from the Bible, such as anise, coriander, cumin, dill, mint, mustard, rose, rue, saffron, and wormwood. If you are a tea drinker, you might create a garden composed of chamomile, lemon balm, mints, basils, rosemary, and the natural sweetener stevia to make your own infusions. A collection of lemony herbs might include herbs that provide a citrus scent and flavor, such as lemon balm, lemon thyme, and lemon verbena.

While other plants are wonderful companions that you may want to consider researching and adding to your collection. Most of the suggested plants are widely adapted but feel free to experiment. {If you live in Zone 5 or colder, you might need to substitute more cold-hardy cultivars for some perennials.} Play in your horticultural sandbox by choosing plants better suited to your conditions and the environment you wish to create. By definition, all gardens, and gardeners evolve over time – and experimenting with new plants and plant combinations is fun. For more designs, visit public gardens. Many include an outstanding period or theme herb gardens that are beautifully maintained.


Herb Garden Design – Period Gardens.

If you own a house with a distinct architectural style – such as Early American, Victorian, or Craftsman – you might want to echo the style of that period in your garden landscape and herb garden. Period gardens generally follow the designs, materials, techniques, and plants of a given era. Before you embark on a historical design, read up on the aesthetics and garden design of that period. For a more formal look, you can draw inspiration from Renaissance gardens, which feature geometric patterns, topiaries, fountains, and even statues.

An enclosed medieval-style garden can make a tranquil refuge. You can enclose it with hedging, a tall wooden fence, latticework covered with climbing plants, plaited wicker {wattling}, or walls of brick or stone. Ideally, it should include a fountain. Surround the fountain with an herbal lawn studded with flowers – columbines, irises, pinks, primroses, and violets. If you have a tree in your garden, you can create a turf seat beneath an arbor. The turf seat – a medieval inspiration – is an earth-filled rectangular box surfaced with a creeping herb such as one of the prostrate thymes or creeping chamomile.

The symmetry of a colonial-style garden is also appealing. To make a colonial herb garden, lay out raised, board-sided beds along a central walk. The walk should lead to a sundial or bench. If possible, enclose the garden with a picket fence or a low hedge. Within the beds, you can mix vegetables and herbs or plant only herbs – such as angelica, borage, burnet, calendula, caraway, catmint, chamomile, chervil, comfrey, coriander, dill, fennel, lemon balm, licorice, lovage, madder, mint, nasturtiums, parsley, rue, sage, sweet cicely, tansy, tarragon, and woad. If you’re attempting a true historical recreation, use only the materials available during that period. Wood, wattling, stone, gravel, brick, and clay were the usual building materials during the colonial period.

Want more inspirations for period gardens? Great ideas to add flair to vegetable and herb gardens: See what has inspired our ideas here and here.

Herb Garden Design 101

Designing a garden can be great fun as you consider potential plants and plant combinations, plant placement, and hardscape features {such as walls, pathways, and steps}. The design and planning phase of a garden are also critical to its success so take the time to do it thoughtfully. It’s a lot easier, and less expensive, to make changes on paper than in the garden.

Measure your garden site, then transfer the outline to graph paper, making the layout scale. {Perhaps 1 foot can equal 1 inch on your graph paper.} Mark trees, buildings, and other obstructions, and note which direction is north. Be sure to leave enough space for comfortable paths, and keep your beds narrow enough to work in – 4 to 5 feet across maximum – but wide enough to look both seductive and effective.

After you have established a design, choose the herbs that will bring it to life. Consider not only plant color, form, and texture but also bloom time and mature height, as well as the conditions of the site. When planning where to place your plants, remember that herbaceous plants usually look best {and most natural} when planted in groups of a given type. Individual plants get lost, creating a blurred, jumbled effect, but masses of plants stand out and create a more unified design. The noted Brazilian landscape architect and artist Roberto Burle Marx once described plants in a garden not only as individual species, but also as “a color, a shape, a volume, or an arabesque in itself.”

In your design, arrange plants so that taller and larger ones won’t hide smaller ones. If your design features a border backed by a wall or fence, plant the tallest herbs in the back and the lowest herbs in front. If you’re planning an island bed, put the tall plants in the center and the low plants around the edges. Include a focal point, such as a large shrub or birdbath, to help anchor the planting.

Good design also considers perspective. For instance, if you’re planning a knot garden – make sure the garden “floor” contrasts with the knotted edging or the pattern will be lost. If your design is meant to be viewed from a distance, use plants that will grab the viewer’s eye – large ones with bright flowers or silver foliage.

Finally, a few words on maintenance. All gardens require some work but keep in mind that the most formal your design and the larger its scale, the more weeding, clipping, mulching, and watering you’ll need to do. Herb gardens, like any others, look best when the plants are full and lush. This is vital when a herb edge or solid block of plants is integral to a design. It’s a good idea to grow extra plants in a nursery area or greenhouse so you’ll always have spares to fill in gaps.