My Tips for Starting a Herb Garden in Big or Small Spaces

It can be difficult to decide how and where to best grow your herbs.

Variety of herbs in the garden
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Starting a herb garden can be a wonderful way to improve your well-being. When you grow your own herbs at home, you can take advantage of all their culinary and medicinal uses, and reap the benefits they can bring while in growth. 

But herb gardens come in so many shapes and forms—it can often be difficult to decide how and where exactly it would be best to grow your herbs. As a garden designer, I work with people to develop sustainable plans that are right for them and their gardens however large or small. Here are some ideas for your consideration:

Vertical Herb Gardens

Herb gardens can be grown in small spaces. Whether it be inside or outdoors, you could have a collection of herbs in smaller pots or in a window box on a sunny windowsill. That said, vertical gardening solutions could enable you to grow more herbs in even the smallest of spaces.

Not all herbs will be suitable for growing in the small planting pockets in a vertical garden. But many common culinary herbs can be grown in this way. Be sure to consider the vertical as well as the horizontal space when planning your herb garden. 

Herb Bed Edging and Margin Planting

Another interesting thing to consider is that herbs can often be great for margin planting and taking advantage of small edge spaces. For example, herbs that like dry and sunny conditions might be perfect for a strip of foundation planting along the south side of your home (in the northern hemisphere). It could also be planted along the edges of a pathway, or even in cracks within a pathway, leading to the kitchen door. 

Drought tolerant herbs might also be perfect choices for a thin strip along the edge of a driveway or for the roof of a shed or other low structure in your garden.

Herb Spirals

A dedicated herb garden can take many different forms. But one important thing to remember is that herbs can have widely different growing requirements. Some thrive in full sun, others need some shade—some like dry and free-draining conditions, others need more moisture. 

When space is rather limited, or when you simply wish to grow as many different herbs in a certain area as possible, it can be useful to think about how you can provide different conditions for different herbs—all in the same bed.

Enter herb spirals: A herb spiral is a special type of raised bed designed to allow you to grow a wide range of different herbs. This common permaculture idea involves creating a bed in a clockwise spiral shape, higher in the middle and lower to the outside. 

Herb Spiral
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Herb spirals can be made with a solid structure of stone, reclaimed brick, logs, or other materials. This structure can then be filled in with layers of organic material. 

Alternatively, more temporary herb spirals can be made like hugelkultur beds, with a spiral shape created on top. These will sink down over time. 

However you make your herb spiral, the idea is that you can place drought-tolerant and deeper rooted plants at the top, sun-loving herbs on the south side, and herbs that prefer more moisture and a little shade towards the north side. 

Polyculture Kitchen Garden Beds

Remember, you do not necessarily have to segregate herbs into a separate herb garden. Herbs can be extremely beneficial as companion plants in vegetable beds in a kitchen garden. 

Annual herbs can easily be integrated into the beds themselves, as companion plants within a crop rotation scheme. One of the famed examples is planting basil alongside tomatoes. 

Perennial herbs which overwinter successfully where you live are best planted as bed edging, or within border planting for pollinator attraction and pest control. Creating a border of perennial herbs and flowers around an area of annual production can often be an excellent idea. 

Integrating Herbs into Forest Garden Designs

Many common culinary herbs are sun-loving. But there are also plenty of culinary and medicinal herbs which can cope with, or even prefer dappled or partial shade. Another way to think about creating a herb garden is to include herbs as the lower tiers in a forest garden, below trees, shrubs, and other plantings. 

Integrating planting to create vibrant and abundant ecosystems with high biodiversity can often be the best and most eco-friendly way to garden. 

So remember, when creating a herb garden, that you should think about integrating rather than segregating, and that you can find amazing options if you think outside the box.