If you want a utility garden that is both beautiful and practical, a formal herb garden presents a perfect opportunity for you. They have a lot in common with the proverbial stone that killed two birds. Culinary herbs will enrich your meals with their rich flavours while aromatic ones will fill your garden with their tantalising fragrance. Medicinal herbs, on the other hand, will provide ready cures to some common ailments while ornamental herb gardens will add to the aesthetics of your garden with their wide variety of foliage and flower colour, textures and artful geometric forms.
Balancing all these functions can be a little intimidating to the amateur gardener. But to create a simple formal herb garden, all you really need to do is choose a geometric shape, like a circle or a square, divide it into sections of equal size and fill each section with similar or complementary herbs. Here are more details:
Shape and form
Formal herb gardens evolve as they do because of both practical and aesthetic reasons. There is the need to access each plant individually for maintenance activities and harvesting. This necessitates that paths be provided every so many feet within a single bed.
Then there is the need to give the garden a sense of art. Evergreen herbs can be trimmed and shaped to take all kinds of shapes that give the garden character and identity. This timeless art of topiary can be traced to some of the most beautiful gardens in France during the romantic period.
The shape of the bed is important, too. Exuberantly spreading herbs are restrained by the beds’ edges, which are designed to take interesting rectilinear or curvilinear shapes. The paths cutting through the bed show off the herbs’ charms and provide an attractive structure even when the herbs are off season.
The choice of which herb to use depends on what you wish to achieve. It is important to collect the most useful fragrant and culinary herbs that you like and arrange them in a pattern that enhances their colourful flowers and foliage.
But you must also contend with the fact that some herbs just won’t grow together. Others will, however, complement and help one another grow better. Rosemary, for instance, will grow very well next to sage, but basil will loathe a nearby mass of sage. Your nursery vendor can advise on which herbs are available and which ones best meet your needs.
The variety, size and shape of your formal herb garden will determine the amount of maintenance to undertake. The more precise and intricate the lines and shapes are, the more any wayward plants will stick out like a sore thumb and the more maintenance you will require.
Similarly, the bigger the garden and the wider variety of herbs you grow, the more the maintenance will be. To make maintenance easy, go for hardy herbs and cut down on the variety of species you grow. Combine species logically within each section, taking into consideration their water and light requirements.
– The writer is a landscape architect.