Along the Edges of an Herb Garden

The edge of an herb garden—where it meets the grass, or greets the street, or curves around a path—is a special place. The boundary shapes and defines the garden space, giving a sense of serenity and order to the lushness it frames. It can draw the eye with splashy color or entice the nose with heady fragrances.

Yet edges also pose challenges to the gardener and landscaper. They are the most visible and the most accessible—the first parts of the garden that we see and smell and touch. Shape, color, texture, and scent are used nowhere more strategically than at the edges. At the same time, they are often subject to the most abuse, from trampling to pets to rampant kids. These areas of transition between garden and landscape deserve some attention.

Though the shape and nature of the outside edges are often defined by walls, fences, streets, property boundaries, and other immovable barriers, the inside edges are more subject to our whims and wiles. They offer a wide range of possibilities to the gardener.

From Form to Function

Every herb garden, even the smallest, needs a basic shape. Meticulous vegetable gardeners pride themselves on tidy straight rows and neat square corners, and their herb-gardener counterparts snip and shape precise curves and spirals in their formal knot gardens. However, herbs are versatile, lending themselves equally to curving, flowing, more asymmetrical designs. The prettiest herb gardens I’ve seen retain an air of wildness. They are surrounded by mounds of silvery gray santolina, sweeps of flowering lavender and hyssop, thymes scrambling over the edges and around the curves. The fresh randomness and wild appeal are restrained but also accentuated by the basic shape of the bed.

Designing the Edges

In laying out a garden, you must first determine the edges. I begin with a shape (usually free-form) in my mind and transfer it to a design on paper. In the garden, I lay out the straight lines with pegs and string, and drag out garden hoses to approximate curves. Some people mark the boundaries with flour; some cut templates of carpet or cardboard to define smaller shapes.

In deciding which herbs to plant to make the best use of these spaces, I consider several factors: scent, color, size and shape, and function. The guidelines below are based on my reading and experience, as well as talking with other gardeners.

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