A Formal Herb Garden

Pyramids of box and tiling edges give
beds a neat finish in a formal scheme.

In herb gardens, remember not to use herbs that are too rampant. If you want to use the more vigorous plants in a small area, regularly dig them out and replace them. It is worth mentioning that the only time of year when the internal divisions of the garden will be clearly seen is in the winter when the vegetation has died back. During the 
growing seasons, the lush growth will be such that the outlines of the beds are not easily seen. If you want to see the 
demarcations, edge the beds with low box hedges, which will also give good definition to the design.

Formal Beds and Borders

Beds edged with low hedges of clipped, dwarf box are a sure way of providing a formal, structured look. This works well for several beds, each being one element of a larger, overall design, or for a single herb border to stand alone.

A large border may also be subdivided by a pattern of internal hedges for a more interesting effect. The spaces in between construct individual planting areas for different species of herb. Timber or tiling edges are another way to give beds a neat finish in a formal scheme.

A bay tree clipped into a spiral
emerges from a sea of lavender.

Clipped Mounds

Clipped mounds of plants such as  cotton lavender, or golden or variegated dwarf box, may be used to great effect, either as edgings or to infill a whole bed. This kind of scheme has more impact if punctuated by clipped plants of a contrasting shape and colour: such as a large bed filled with mounds of silvery santolina, set against pyramids of dark-green box bordering a path.

A formal effect can also be achieved by planting blocks of herbs to make up a simple pattern of squares or triangular shapes, which can be repeated. This works most successfully for herbs of contrasting foliage colour and similar heights and habits: silver posie thyme, perhaps, with the dark green of wall germander, or golden and purple sage.

Topiary Herbs

Standard “mop-head” box or bay trees, pyramids or spiral shapes are an instant way to add formality. If you have time and patience you can train your own to shape, but it may be easier to buy them ready-grown. Topiary and citrus fruit trees in tubs were a popular feature in Tudor and Renaissance gardens, and can still work well in a modern scheme. Placed at strategic points in a geometric scheme, they add an old-fashioned touch and increase the sense of order and regularity. They can also be very useful for introducing the all-important dimension of height and visually linking the various elements of a garden.

Effective herbs for potted topiary include: bay, wall germander, mintbush (Prostanthera rotundifolia), rosemary, scented-leaf pelargoniums – especially P. crispum – myrtle and box.

A Planned Formal Herb Garden

Herb gardens need to be carefully planned if they are to be attractive. Primarily a herb garden is a place 
for growing herbs for the kitchen, but it should also be a peaceful haven where the scents 
and colours of the plants can be enjoyed. However, it is worth remembering that a well maintained herb 
garden needs more attention than a vegetable plot.

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