Garden Spaces: Spice Up Your Life with Bold Mexican Herbs

Or adapt this sharp design to your own favorites.

| August/September 2008

If you’ve been contemplating a new garden bed, consider applying some tidy geometry. A simple framework, such as this four-square garden, complements the free-form beauty and abundance of the herbs, vegetables and flowers within its boundaries. Its rigid lines and sharp corners help balance and contain the soft, mounding forms that by season’s end might otherwise sprawl in a riotous fashion.

A four-square shape is ideal for gardens that will be harvested regularly because it provides easy access from all sides. And for children or newcomers to gardening, it is one of the least intimidating shapes to plan and plant.

This Mexican four-square garden contains all the bold flavors that have made this cuisine so wildly popular in recent decades. With a steady supply of tomatoes and tomatillos, along with the tang of cilantro and the punch of peppers, all you need for a hot summer night is a minty mojito in your hand and salsa music in the background.

A potted lime tree anchors the center of this garden. Its fruit is essential to many Mexican dishes, and the container allows you to move the tender plant to a protected patio or greenhouse for the winter. Onions and garlic, which add depth of flavor to Mexican dishes, can be tucked through the squares wherever they fit. In addition to the required cilantro, I’ve included useful flat-leaf parsley for those who don’t care for cilantro’s distinctive flavor. Jalapeños are just the start for the pepper-heads among us; add a habanero (you know you want it), serano or other sweat-popping pepper, and keep the less-daring happy by including a milder banana or Anaheim pepper.

Get It Ready

Late summer to early autumn is a great time for digging and preparing a new garden bed; come spring, all you need to do is plant. Mark out the boundaries of the garden in a location that gets full sun. Then, take a pitchfork to the area, removing all rocks, grass, weeds and large roots. (If you’re starting with turfgrass, you might need to use a tiller.) Dig the pathways down a few inches, mounding that dirt onto the garden squares to raise them slightly, or transfer the excavated soil to another part of your yard.

To ensure the crisp lines and sharp corners needed for this design, use brick or paving stones to line the outer frame, pathways and center diamond.

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