Learn how to create a compact, raised bed herb garden for easy access to your favorite culinary herbs.
Illustration by Gayle Ford
No matter how many herb garden beds I create throughout my property, I still dream of having an herb planter like this one. If I had my favorite culinary herbs growing in a single compact bed near my kitchen, I could just stand in front of it to figure out what’s for dinner, and then gather what I need.
Measuring a mere 5 to 6 feet long and 2-1/2 to 3 feet high and deep, this planter is easy to manage, yet holds enough herbs to supply a family with daily snippings at dinnertime. And because the planter is bottomless, the soil inside drains easily and plant roots can grow deep.
New gardeners, as well as cooks who don’t have space for a large garden, will love the simplicity of this carefree bed. Even those who already have herbal landscapes will appreciate its convenience. There will be few weeds to pull and no pruning, as the constant harvest will keep herbs compact and shapely. Watering and occasional feeding are the only maintenance chores required.
For my dream planter, I’ve selected my favorite culinary herbs, but left out dill, fennel and others that would grow very large in the landscape. Feel free to substitute your own favorite cooking herbs. For instance, if your taste (or climate) leans more toward cilantro than tarragon, by all means, swap them out. You might even experiment with some of the taller herbs. In a planter, they won’t grow as large as they would in the garden.
A planter like this is ideal for growing a collection of different varieties, such as basils. And this method makes it easy to add or subtract plants as needed. If you want the fragrance of lavender or the bite of a pepper, for example, simply tuck in one of these herbs. On the other hand, if your oregano or mint plants become too rambunctious, just yank them out and try something else. You can grow most of these plants from seed, but filling the planter with started plants will be much easier. You’ll probably find all of these commonly available herbs at your neighborhood garden center. Or, you could start your own plants from cuttings taken from elsewhere in your garden.
This planter is constructed of brick, but you could use landscape timbers, stone or another strong material available in your locale. Large troughs work well, too; here in Texas, where every ranch has large metal watering troughs for horses and livestock, used troughs often are available. (If you use a trough or similar container, be sure it has plenty of drainage holes and use a light soil mixture that won’t compact with frequent watering). If you construct your wall with dry-stack brick (no mortar) or stones layered with soil, consider leaving planting pockets for thymes and other cascading herbs.
Locate your planter in full sun—where it will receive at least six hours of sunlight a day; anything less will result in spindly plants. This planter is perfect at the edge of a deck or patio, just outside the back door. Besides having these herbs within easy reach, you and your guests will enjoy the herbs’ soft, mounding shapes, colors, textures and fragrances whenever you relax on the porch.
Fill the planter with a mix of regular garden soil and compost. As you plant, tamp the soil firmly around each herb, then water well. For this initial watering, I like to include a little liquid seaweed to give roots a boost and help plants become established. Adding a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch—shredded leaves, straw, pine needles or other natural material—will help retain moisture during dry spells.
This planter won’t need to be watered as often as smaller containers would, but check the soil daily until the plants begin growing and water when it feels dry. To keep your herbs growing strong, feed them with a dilute organic fertilizer, such as fish emulsion, occasionally throughout the growing season.
This garden is intended to be carefree—one you can change easily with the seasons. And because it will provide food for your table, take care to maintain it organically, using compost and organic materials.
If you have a challenging garden site and would like a design solution, or simply want to create a new look for a border or bed, write to us. From time to time, we select a reader’s challenge and provide a simple “Garden Spaces” design solution. Send your requests to email@example.com, with “Design Challenge” in the subject line.
Kathleen Halloran is a freelance writer and editor living and gardening in beautiful Austin, Texas.
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