Outdoor herb garden

Basil (Photo by Pxfuel.com)

By Alex Tisthammer

Herbs have been used by our ancestors for millennia. The earliest recorded depiction of herbs appears in the Lascaux caves in France, dating from 13,000 to 25,000 BC. The rock drawings are of Gingko Biloba leaves, which are still used today in traditional Chinese medicine. Jump to medieval times in the 9e century, you see the first visual representation of a formal garden in the plans for the Abbey of St. Gall. These show two rectangular gardens with rows of 34 raised beds dedicated solely to vegetables, potherbs and medicines. This utilitarian style was common in most medieval gardens. In modern times, we almost don’t have the space or the need for something so complex, but we can still take inspiration from designing these gardens.

Raised beds add a traditional, clean look to a yard and make plot maintenance easier. If you don’t have enough space to dedicate an entire bed to grasses, you can blend them into the landscape with your ornamentals. You can plant rows of chives or lavender along a driveway, or incorporate an elderberry shrub.

When planning an herb garden, you will want to keep in mind the placement of annual herbs versus perennial herbs. Consider proper spacing for sowing your annual grass seeds in the beds between your perennials. For example, Valerian (Valeriana Officinalis) takes up a lot of space and can grow 3 to 8 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide, so you’ll want to plant it backwards.

You also need to think about what senses you want to stimulate while in the space and what plants trigger those senses. Do you want fragrant herbs like lavender, basil and rosemary near your patio so you can smell the scents when you relax? Or do you want soft plants like mugwort or bronze fennel near your front door so you can smell their soft leaves as you walk past? At the Denver Botanical Garden, they have a sensory garden where you can find herbs used to support good health and well-being through sensory experiences with the natural world. The properties of plants, whether through scent, sensation or touch, help create a calm and inviting environment. Herbs are not only nourishing, they are able to provide therapeutic properties just by being in your garden where you can come into contact with them.

Below is a quick list of herbs that can be used for an outdoor herb garden. Remember that any plant that can be used as a seasoning, perfume, tincture, fiber, or medicine can be included in an herb garden, opening up a world of possibilities.

Perennial herbs:

culinary sage
bronze fennel
Oregano
Valerian*
Echinacea*
Comfrey*
Chive
Lavender
Tarragon
Mugwort*
Elderberry*
Roman creeping chamomile
mint

Annual/tender herbs:

Calendula+
Worry+
Dyer’s Pastel+
nasturtiums
Basil
Rosemary
Thyme
Borage

*Medicinal
+For dyeing

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Terri S. Tomasini