Herb gardens have featured in domestic gardens for hundreds of years, from Roman Pompeii, through Medieval monastic gardens and Victorian walled gardens to the pots of culinary herbs on a twenty-first century window sill.
But perhaps you’d like to do a bit more with herbs than buying the fresh ones from the supermarket? You’re in need of some herb garden ideas – perhaps you know you’d like to have fresh herbs to use in the kitchen but aren’t sure which herbs would grow near your shady back door?
Herbaceous plants are those which have soft stem and leafy growth above ground; they may be annual or perennial.
Herbs may be annual, biennial or annual and are better defined as a plant which has one or more uses in the categories of culinary (eating) herbs, medicinal herbs and cosmetic herbs. There are some sub-categories, such as strewing herbs, where they were used for to reduce fleas and generally disinfect and improve the smell of house and castle interiors.
Arguably, as we make use of so many plants, the term ‘herb’ should include plants which we use to make chairs, cricket bats and longbows, for example. The issue with extending the definition of herbs to include all these uses is that humans have exploited and farmed their surrounding environment for so many thousands of years that there would be very few plants which would not fit into the ‘herb’ definition!
Herb Garden Ideas
As you can imagine there are plenty of design ideas for creating herb gardens and if you were to ask us to design one for you we would be looking at a range of factors before coming up with the herb garden design to suit you.
For example, whether your herb garden to be was in a sunny or shady spot; how much gardening knowledge you have, as some herbs need more attention than others; did you want a low maintenance herb garden; would you want to use the herbs for cooking; or just enjoy their relaxing aromatic qualities; and how much space is to be given to the herb garden.
There are more aspects to garden design than this, of course, but let’s keep it simple. The main questions to remember are:
· Will the herbs be in sun or shade?
· To what use do you want to put the herbs?
· Or do you want to enjoy their aromatic and decorative qualities only?
· How much time do you want to spend looking after your herb garden?
· Also useful – what is your approximate budget?
Container Herb Gardens
Container herb gardens are a good way to start if you’re new to gardening or you only have a small space.
Go for the largest container you have room and money for if you’re putting your whole herb garden in it.
Or group your herb pots together to create their very own microclimate.
Using different pots for different herbs does mean that you can vary the potting compost to suit the herb; and also vary the sunny / shady aspect, having some pots in a sunny area, and others in a shadier corner.
Raised Bed Herb Gardens
Raised beds are an excellent way to grow herbs whether you have a small space or enough room for a good sized herb garden with lots of raised beds laid out.
As with container gardens, raised beds allow you to adapt the soil to suit the needs of the different types of herb plants.
The formality of raised bed gardens fits in with many modern house styles. It also harks back to the regularity of the geometric parterre and knot gardens of Medieval, Tudor and Stuart herb gardens.
On a practical basis, paths between the raised beds allow easy access to the herbs; the soil in the raised bed won’t be walked on so you won’t need to dig it; and as the raised beds will be larger than containers, they will need less watering.
Unless you want to spend time tending the box hedges, or the strawberry plants that surround the borders of your larger herb garden, raised beds are probably the best choice.
Wildlife Flower Border Herb Gardens
Herbs are noted for their aromatic qualities a result of the essential oils contained within the plant. They have developed these oils to dissuade grazing animals form grazing on them and to attract pollinating insects. This makes many herbs a good choice for a mixed flower border where bees, butterflies, lacewings and so on are to be encouraged.
Lavender is an obvious and popular choice for this situation. Lavender likes free draining compost, Lavendula stoechas (French lavender) is fussier about this than Lavendula angustifolia (English lavender). The latter prefers a sandier type of soil but will thrive in clay so long as you add plenty of organic matter and grit so its roots aren’t drowning in water all winter. They both like to enjoy the sun for most of the day. Prune Lavender fairly hard every year after flowering to maintain a compact shape.
There are less common choices which you may like to try that are just as attractive to wildlife. Hyssop has deep purple flowers and grey/ green foliage. It is a smaller shrub than Lavender with a more upright habit.
And if you need a climber you could try golden hop (Humulus lupulus aureus). The flowers are scented, and it’s a self-twiner, so you don’t need to be tying it into support. I would suggest cutting it back in late autumn for two reasons; firstly you are sure of getting lots of fresh golden foliage and secondly, it stops it growing too vigorously. Planting it on an east facing wall seems to keep it civilised as well.
Herb Garden Ideas for Culinary Herbs
Chives and parsley, both culinary herbs and very useful in the kitchen, are tolerant of shade. Curly leaf parsley, the more popular British variety, can flourish in more shade than you might expect, and over winters, so it’s useful when you want a pot of fresh herbs outside your north facing back door. Although generally treated as an annual, an individual parsley plant can survive for three years if regularly picked and prevented from going to seed.
Chives should retain their leaves over winter unless it’s particularly cold for some time. As well as the common chives, there are also garlic chives which are particularly good added to an otherwise plain omelette. Chives can also be used as attractive and practical low hedging around a border or raised bed of culinary herbs. Cut off the flower buds when you see them as then the leaves lose their flavour. Toward the end of the summer you could allow one plant to flower and set seed, so you have can start new chive plants off in the spring.
For something a bit different you could grow Vietnamese coriander (Persicaria odorata). The strongly aromatic leaves are great in stir fry dishes. It is a sun lover, and tender, so you’ll need to grow it in a pot that you keep under cover in the winter or treat it as an annual.
A few herb garden ideas for you, hopefully to inspire you to try some out. If you want to know more about raised bed gardens, check out Nathan’s blog on Raised Beds in the Garden. If you’d like to know more about herbs, do get in touch directly for individual advice or let Marie know which bit about herbs interests you and she can write another blog for all to share.