Cultivating an herb garden is a practical way to add flavor to your kitchen, delight to your garden, and even old-fashioned remedies to your medicine chest. Today’s herb gardens are the cheery ancestors of those medieval plots that grew many fragrant plants we know commonly as herbs. The ideal characteristic for an herb garden is simplicity.
Medieval gardens generally grew herbs in rectangular beds - one type of herb in each plot. Today, a similar method is known as plant and pave or the checkerboard method of planting. This method involves dividing a large plot into smaller square or diamond sections. Think of a checkerboard: the "black" squares will be fitted with single slabs of paving stone and each of the "red" squares will contain one type of herb. Consider an awkward garden niche for this type of planting. Or, experiment with variations such as rectangular or triangular patches.
For a cottage setting or for a Victorian effect, consider using cobblestone to pave the squares between each herb square. The main goal for an overall pleasant appearance is to be sure the ground is level. Choosing plants that compliment or contrast with one another is another great way to add simple visual interest to the area. While herbs are simple and fragrant plants, they are generally not spotlight stealers; a simple design such as the checkerboard layout will add considerable interest and highlight these special plants in a manner that is easy to maintain. For this type of design, tall growing herbs like fennel and angelica will be out of place, but herbs such as thyme, chives, caraway, parsley and lemon balm will look right at home.
For typical suburban backyards that are rectangular shaped, a long raised flowerbed that extends beside the back walkway might be the perfect way to grow your herbs. Each section of the raised bed, also a long rectangle, could be a plot for an herb. Separate each section with a short column of river rocks. This is a simplistic style, but extremely effective. You can spice it up by giving your bed a decorative stone border or offset it with logs or railroad ties. A narrow bed is easy to garden and its shape will be easy to mow beside.
For hilly terrain or a landscape that contains a sloped section--typically difficult to garden--consider planting your herbs here. As herbs are relatively easy to grow, you can make the terrain suitable by installing terraces--either simple sections set off with railroad ties, or more elaborate terraces beset with stone. Each terrace may contain one or more types of herb, adding some old-world charm to a hard-to-garden area. You can further dress up this area by installing several rock formations or adding a charming cascade of water.
Another pleasing type of planting for an herb garden is the fragrant herb border. This might serve to divide your garden from the patio area to the play area. It may be planted against a garden wall, for example, to dress up the wood or stone a bit. It may even be installed at the side of the house or under the kitchen window. It is not as formal as a plant and pave design, but it generally ties into the landscape and adds a pleasing effect to the general surroundings. A stretch of herbs that include lavender, meadow sweet, mint and rosemary will make gathering a breeze and add country charm to any setting.
Because herb gardens, also known as kitchen gardens when accompanied by a few vegetables, they are generally not included in formal gardens, but that need not be the case. Although these unassuming darlings of the plant world do not have the makings of the Damask rose, for example, they will find terrific pairings when installed in a formal design. Herbs have great decorative potential only waiting to be tapped by a suitable installation. Consider again a difficult or awkward section of the garden for a delightful section of purple sage. Or, ring your fountain or marble statue with a fetching planting of lavender.
Some formal gardens contain low growing mazes; herbs could easily be worked into this design. Or, flank a special garden fountain or statue with a circular design of herbs - lavender for the center and then a different herb for each section of the circle. Again, these are simple designs that may be adapted to either formal or informal gardens. Gardeners can also install their favorite herbs in antique planters to provide additional old-world charm and provide an easy to maintain home for their plants.
Maintaining an herb garden is a delightful aspect of horticulture because the plants themselves have so many uses around the home. While they will most certainly add beauty to the garden, they will find practical uses in the kitchen and may also be tried as herbal remedies for a variety of common ailments. Before selecting your plants, thumb through a cookbook to see which ones are used in the recipes you like, and check out a book of home remedies to find an herb what is useful in treating ills like the common cold.