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Herb Gardens for Today

A beautiful, scented cloister garden
at Château de Vandrimare in France.

When planning a herb garden today there is a vast choice of styles and influences to choose from. As herbs and plants cover such a wide range, they are often grown throughout the garden in ornamental beds and borders or among vegetable plots. But a designated herb garden with a range of medicinal, culinary and aromatic plants and its own boundaries always makes a rewarding feature. In a very small garden, of course, it may well be designed to take up the whole area.

Historical precedents provide much inspiration for a herb garden in the formal style, with rectangular beds, straight paths and edgings of clipped box. It could be based on the medieval garden, with narrow, raised beds filled with a single species, divided by wide alleys. Or you could draw inspiration from the romantic enclave of a castle garden; or a cloister or paradise garden. And, the striking pattern of a knot garden or parterre is always effective.

Informal designs based on curves and irregular shapes give scope for imaginative planting schemes with a bold use of colour and texture; and the cottage-garden style, with its profusion of plants crammed into a small space, is another option.

In any scheme a place to sit, either a simple bench or intricate covered arbour, is a must. A sundial or urn as a centrepiece provides a good focal point.

Whatever the style, some kind of enclosure adds an extra dimension, setting the herb garden apart. It could be a low fence or herbal hedge or, for a larger area, high trelliswork or a wall may be more appropriate. Herbs may be practical plants, for particular purposes, but they also add a little mystery and magic to the world and deserve a special place of their own.