Herb Garden Styles – A formal herb garden is often designed in the form of a parterre with closely clipped low hedges of box, which give a defined frame to the herbs. There are other suitable plants for hedging, however. Santolina chamaecyparis gives a beautiful silver frame to the design, wall germander (Teucrium x lucidrys) has neat triangular dark green leaves, and the dark green foliage of rosemary and the dwarf lavender ‘Munstead Dwarf ’ can be effective.
Hyssop and thyme will also grow dense enough to be regularly trimmed, and chives can make a very pretty edging during the summer, but will disappear in winter.
Work out your garden design first on paper and then mark it out on the ground with string or hose pipe before you start planting. Rectangular, circular and square shapes can all look good. Triangular shapes are more difficult to manage but may suit a particular plot. The whole thing can be as large or small, as simple or complex as you like.
In a small herb garden you can use a cartwheel shape, laid out in stones or bricks, and grow the plants between the ‘spokes’. It is best to separate the plants with narrow paths or stepping stones of brick or paving or they will grow into one another and spoil the clarity of the pattern.
Add height by planting standard roses at regular intervals and a vertical eye-catcher in the center of the plot such as a sundial, a fountain or other water feature or a large urn on a pedestal.
Using herbs informally
A formal herb garden does take up space and may not be the best answer in a basically informal garden. Formality is successful when linked to a grand or formal building but does require constant maintenance with frequent clipping to keep it under control.
A more sensible way of herb gardening for those with a busy lifestyle is to incorporate herbs in a mixed border, as you would any other flowering plants.
Rosemary makes a tall, stately shrub with sky-blue flowers all along its branches in spring and summer. It can be used as a structural plant in a border or as a specimen plant, on its own against a sunny wall or freestanding. Angelica, lovage, and sweet cicely are all tall, stately plants, which can provide structural elements in a border. Bronze fennel, with dark feathery leaves, can provide good contrasts with other plants. Chives, sage, golden marjoram and other plants with similar habits can make good companion plants towards the front of a border. Garlic chives have narrow, strap-like leaves with flat heads of small white flowers in late summer and fall.