Tips for Creating an Herb Garden

Many people love not only how fresh herbs taste, but also the way they look and smell in the garden. Learn how to use herbs to create a garden that looks great year round, even when it's not full of summer herbs.

Herb Garden Conditions

Most herbs need sandy, dry, fertile soil (the type found in Italy, Greece and France); the type of soil available to you will affect the soil amendments you choose. Herbs don't like to have wet roots: they need good drainage, so the clay soil Joe will be working with will need lots of help.

If you have clay soil in your garden, you can add bags of compost, soil conditioner and contractor's sand to make it drain better. The compost will add the organic material the plants need for food; the sand and the soil conditioner will break up the clay just enough to let water drain away from the plant roots a bit more quickly.

use tiller to work amendments into soil

use tiller to work amendments into soil

Use a tiller to get the amendments worked into the soil to a depth of 6" to 8".

Garden Design

Most herb roots get the majority of their nutrients from the top 6" of soil, so it's important to make that layer as rich and loose as you can.

tea olive sweet smell will complement savory herbs

tea olive sweet smell will complement savory herbs

One good foundation plant is the fragrant tea olive.

Once the amendments have been worked into the soil, it's time to lay out the garden design. To break up the space and create the look of a low green wall, add some foundation plants. This will accomplish several things: First, it will help balance out any hard lines from walls or fences; second, it will give the area the look of an outdoor room; and third, it will give the garden some structure in the winter when the herbs die back.

Tea Olive

low hedge of boxwood enhances herb garden

low hedge of boxwood enhances herb garden

Dwarf boxwoods are those small evergreen plants you always see along the borders of an herb garden.

They are evergreen plants that get 6-10 feet tall and have flowers that smell like orange blossoms. Their dark green foliage will act as a backdrop for the herbs and the sweet smell will complement the stronger savory herbs.

Dwarf Boxwoods

lavender is a popular herb

lavender is a popular herb

Lavender is another popular herb.

They're a good choice because they keep their color year round and can be trimmed or clipped into almost any shape. A low hedge of boxwood never fails to look nice in an herb garden.


rosemary is woody perennial with strong flavor

rosemary is woody perennial with strong flavor

Like lavender, rosemary is a woody perennial that has a heady scent and strong flavor.

There are many types of lavender, all of which can be sensitive to ground temperatures and the amount to moisture they get. Be sure to choose one that grows in your zone. Lavender forms a low-growing hedge that's full of purple flowers and fragrant branches in the spring and summer. Lavender is dried to use in soaps, perfumes and cooking. The flower heads are sold by weight; since they can be very pricey, growing your own is an inexpensive way to have a steady supply of this fragrant herb.


Its popularity makes it a must for any herb garden. Rosemary is easy to grow and will get very large if you don't trim it back every now and then; as it grows, you will need to keep it in a uniform shape. It's perfect for the corner where Joe is planting it, because it will add it some height and provide a backdrop for the smaller herbs he's putting in front of it. The upright look of the rosemary plants will provide a nice contrast to the more loose structure of the annual herbs that will go in front of them.

These plants are all evergreen, and they're the only plants that will be green in the winter. It's very important that you pick plants that you like and that grow well in your area. If you don't think they look good now, or if they don't have the shape you want, you won't be happy with the garden later on. So be sure to do your homework and pick what's best for your taste.

Add some 10-10-10 slow-release fertilizer around the base of the plants and mix it in with the loose soil. This will help the plants get the nutrients they need to put out strong roots. This is especially important the first year until the plants get established. Finally, give all the shrubs a good drink of water. Always water new shrubs as soon as you get them in the ground; otherwise the surrounding dirt will soak up the moisture from the root ball and the plant will go into shock.

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