Herbs don't need to be grown in a garden of their own. You can tuck herb plants anywhere in your existing beds and borders. But there are times you'll want to have certain herbs handy for harvesting or you'll need a large space to plant the herbs you'll need in large quantities. However, you choose to plant your herbs, keep in mind that herbs can be rampant plants. Many spread by seed and by runners. The iconic four-square herb garden can be very high maintenance and a knot garden takes ongoing dedication.
But a designated herb garden is a luxury for all the senses and working in an herb garden is as much pleasure as it is toil. Here are some tips for creating an herb garden to enjoy.
Where to Plant Your Herb Garden
Pick a sunny spot, but try to keep your herb garden near the kitchen, so you'll be tempted to step outside and grab what you need while cooking. Of course, if you're growing herbs other than for culinary use or if you're growing large batches of herbs to preserve or dry at the end of the season, kitchen proximity may not be a concern.
How Large Should Your Herb Garden Be?
The obvious answer is, large enough to grow all the plants you want or need. Culinary herbs don't take a great deal of space. Because you cut only what you need, a couple of plants can suffice for the season. The question of space is more dependant on how much variety you want and how many of the herbs are perennial.
However, if you are growing to dry or freeze herbs, you will want more plants. And if you are growing for some other purpose, such as making dyes or potpourri, you will need very large plantings.
A final consideration is whether you will be devoting an entire garden to herbs or interplanting them with other plants in your existing gardens.
Planting a Formal Herb Garden
Formal herb gardens look gorgeous - at least during their peak season of May through June. The structure of the garden helps to cover the straggly appearance of overgrown, recently sheared or bolting herbs.
Generally, formal herb gardens are laid out as a series of beds creating some geometric form, like a square, circle or half-circle. The plants will vary in each bed, but the hardscaping pulls things together as a whole. Paths between the beds are often paved with stone or brick, adding even more 4 season structure to the picture. Add a central feature, like a sundial, urn or birdbath, and you have a garden that will look polished even when the plants are covered in snow.
Theme gardens are popular with herb gardeners. Themes such as color, scent or variations of a particular herb can easily be incorporated into the separate beds.
Some gardeners prefer to group perennial herbs separate from the annual herbs. Just like in the flower garden, the perennials will spread and develop over time. You can fill in open spaces with annual herbs, but you don't want to be disturbing the soil around them every time you start new annual plants. And if you allow the annual herbs to self-seed, you are going to have some editing to do, once the perennial herbs start to fill in.
Annual herbs, kept in their own section of the garden, can be varied every year and also planted in succession through the summer.
Growing Windowsill Herbs
The idea of a windowsill herb garden is very alluring for both chefs and gardeners. While it is possible to grow herbs well in pots indoors, it's not as easy as it may appear. Remember that herbs need a great deal of sun to grow well. Windows, particularly in winter, can't always provide as much as is needed. And while herbs like well-drained soil, they are not that fond of the dry air conditions of centrally heated homes.
Probably the biggest drawback to herb gardening on a windowsill is that most herbs will require at least a 12" pot. The tiny potted herbs lined up for photo shoots aren't terribly practical for cooking purposes unless you only plan to harvest once a month or so. That said, I still enjoy having my potted herbs near me in the kitchen, if only for ambiance and inspiration. The real thrill of culinary herb gardening comes in the summer when you can harvest basil, dill, and whatnot by the arm full.
Herbs in the Vegetable Garden
Some herbs are well suited to growing in the vegetable garden, where they can be harvested as needed and their self-seeding might even be welcome. Annual herbs like basil, coriander, and dill are more convenient if they are near the vegetables they will be cooked with.
Herbs in the Flower Garden
Some herbs are so attractive they deserve a place in the flower garden and can be a key element of garden design. Certainly lavender would be welcome in any spot in the garden. Plants like monarda and calendula are so little used as herbs these days, we just consider them ornamental flowers. And even culinary herbs, like dill and borage, look at home in a cottage style garden where they can self-seed with abandon.
A great bonus to inter-planting your herbs in the vegetable or flower garden is that many herbs attract beneficial insects to the garden. This can help in overall pest control, however, you may be sacrificing some of the herb plants.