Designing Herb Gardens

Hermann Park herb garden. image by CosmoPolitician/


Walking through an herb garden or sitting nearby in quiet contemplation refreshes the spirit and stimulates the senses. The best herb garden for you and your family begins with a well-thought out design. When you grow herbs for the kitchen or for a medicinal tea, you are following in the footsteps of your ancestors who considered an herb garden essential to civilized living.

Designing an Herb Garden

Step 1

Decide on the type of herb garden you want---there are many options. You can have a formal herb garden or a wild one with randomly placed plants growing naturally. Your garden can have a theme based on color or fragrance. You can elect to grow culinary herbs or medicinal herbs or both. The most-complicated and labor-intensive herb garden designs are formal herb gardens. Formal herb gardens use geometric shapes with groups of plants divided by walkways or paths made of brick or stone. Larger, formal gardens often have a bench, fountain or water feature included in the design. A knot garden is a special category of formal herb garden. Farmer's Almanac tells us that "a knot garden is artfully laid out and planned in order to resemble the threads of ancient Celtic knot work." The knot garden has a long history dating back to Elizabethan England and France. The garden's design includes border plants and plant groups, and takes advantage of contrasting colors. Sara's Super Herbs offers several suggestions on geometric patterns appropriate for modern knot gardens including, "brick circle, brick diamond, square within a square, diagonal paths, interlocking diamonds, oblongs and right angles, diamonds and squares, diamonds in rectangles, and wheel beds."

Step 2

Select plants that will fit into your design and grow in your area. Consider sun or shade preferences, heat and cold tolerance, plant size and growing habits, color, and maintenance requirements in making your selection. Use a good herb-growing reference book to help in making the best plant choices. The Herb Society of America has an excellent list of resource books on growing herbs for beginners and experts.

Step 3

Use the graph paper to layout your herb garden. Mark off the dimensions of the garden using 1 square per foot or half foot, depending on the garden's size. Place the paths and other fixed features such as a fountain, bench and trees first. Place each herb to scale on the graph paper using information on the plant's mature width. Remember to leave some space between plants for air circulation. If you enjoy using a computer, there are several free and inexpensive software programs to help you layout your herb garden and see how it will look when complete.

Tips and Warnings

  • Maintaining a formal herb garden requires significantly more time and attention than natural designs.

Things You'll Need

  • Graph paper
  • Pencil
  • Herb catalog or reference book


  • Farmer's Almanac Article on Knot Gardens
  • Sara's Super Herbs Discusses Knot Gardens
  • Beginner's Herb Garden

Who Can Help

  • Herbs and Herb Gardening: An Annotated Bibliography and Resource Guide - USDA
Keywords: herb gardening, herb garden design, herb garden layout

About this Author

Barbara Brown has been a freelance writer since 2006. She worked 10 years performing psychological testing before moving into information research. She worked as a knowledge management specialist and project manager in defense and health research. She is studying to be a master gardener and has a master's degree in psychology from Southern Methodist University.

Photo by: CosmoPolitician/