better homes & gardens

Our mini circle design is a good start.

A herb garden is one of the loveliest additions you can make to your garden and lifestyle.

To grow herbs you need a sunny spot with at least six hours of sun a day. Average soil is okay, as long as it's well drained. If the herbs are close to the kitchen, all the better because they'll be handy for clipping at a moment's notice.

Design options are limitless. Your herb planting may be big or small, modern and mixed, with succulents or ornamental grasses or a cottagey mingle of herbs and flowers. At its simplest, it may be a collection of potted herbs.

Our plan here is for a circle about 2m in diameter. This could be attached to a patio or even be placed at the crossing of two paths. If you prefer, grow the mint in the ground instead of in a tub, or use a sundial, birdbath, statue or standard rose as the central feature.

Here's How

Step 1: Decide where the centre of the garden should be and hammer in a short stake. Attach a stringline to the stake and stretch it out 2m. Carefully mark out the circle by sprinkling a trail of flour beneath the end of the stretched string as you walk slowly around the stake.

Step 2: Use the flour trail as a guide and dig out the edge of the circle with a sharp spade. Leaving the stake in place dig out the grass, weeds and all other plants from the centre of the circle.

Step 3: Decide where your crossing paths will go and mark their position with two stringlines at right angles. Make sure the lines cross at the central stake. Using the stringlines as your guide, lay some old bricks, concrete block or pavers.

Step 4: Dig over the soil and add a few barrow loads of compost for good drainage. Water all the plants before planting, then plant according to the plan. Water in well and apply some straw mulch.

Planting plan

In each of the four quadrants, two different plants are grown. This allows plenty of space for them to spread. Play with the colours and textures of herbs and create your own version of this simple layout. Formal designs do tame the herbs' wild tendencies, and paths keep the plants within easy range for picking and tending.

The herbs used here are (from the outside to the centre):
Top left - parsley and tarragon.
Top right - sage and lemongrass.
Bottom left - chives and bergamot.
Bottom right - basil and rosemary.

Caring for the garden

Water your new garden regularly and clip herbs lightly and regularly, even if you're not using them in your cooking.

Annual herbs, such as coriander, basil and parsley, need replacing each year. For long-living annual herbs, buy specimens without flowers and constantly pinch out the growing tips. Think organic! Hand remove insects and diseased leaves as they appear.

Save heaps - Establish your garden with these thrifty options

  • Take cuttings of thyme and lavender. Buy a couple of potted plants, trim 4-5 cm lengths and strike in seed-raising mix. Take 20% more cuttings than you need to cover losses.
  • Grow coriander, basil and parsley from seed. Alternatively, shop around for pots or punnets with more than one plant per pot.
  • Strawberry, mint and lemon grass multiply, so buy one plant of each variety and carefully divide them before planting. Divide again, if necessary, as the plants grow. Make sure each section has roots.
  • Standard bay trees look great in the centre of herb gardens, but are expensive. Grow your own by starting with a plant with a straight stem. Remove the lower branches and when it reaches the desired height, snip the top off the stem. Nip off leaf buds monthly to create a dense ball.

Mint - try apple mint. With its pale variegated leaves it looks good with white petunias in summer gardens.

Parsley - a herb essential in bouquet garni. Curly parsley freezes very well.

Tarragon - replant every few years as plants lose vigour over time. Try French and Russian.

Sage - there are lots of different sages and some are grown purely for decorative qualities.

Lemon grass - is also know as citronella grass. An untidy plant that needs regular trimming.

Chives - a herb that also suits pots and makes a neat garden edging plant.

Bergamot - bees love bergamot and in its native US it is sometimes called bee balm.

Basil - a summer herb that repels flies and mozzies too.

Rosemary - traditionally a bringer of good fortune, so no garden should be without it.