Cre­ate a pa­tio herb gar­den

Alice Spenser-Higgs gets a sneak preview of the herb gar­dens that fea­ture in next week­end’s an­nual Herb Hap­pen­ing

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HERB grower Louis van Aswe­gen’s love of Mediter­ranean herbs is quite ap­par­ent from his de­sign of the pa­tio herb gar­den that forms part of the an­nual Herb Hap­pen­ing in Midrand next week­end.

Bushes of aromatic rose­mary, laven­der and peren­nial basil tum­ble over white­washed walls, hardy thymes thrive in ter­ra­cotta pots, and gravel crunches un­der­foot. All that’s miss­ing is the blue Aegean Sea.

The gar­den is one of a num­ber of herb show gar­dens at Doon­holm Herb Farm, the venue for the Herb Hap­pen­ing from Fri­day April 16 to Sun­day April 18. Other gar­dens in­clude the Spi­ral gar­den that can be walked as a labyrinth, an African medic­i­nal herb gar­den, a va­ri­ety of kitchen herb gar­dens, the Monas­tic gar­den and the Laven­der lane, fea­tur­ing 15 dif­fer­ent types of laven­der.

For the pa­tio herb gar­den, Van Aswe­gen de­cided to break away from tra­di­tional de­sign for a more con­tem­po­rary look. His oval-shaped 8m x 7m gar­den can eas­ily be adapted to a sunny court­yard, a small gar­den room in a larger gar­den or an en­tire gar­den in a small town­house.

If the gar­den needs to fill a rec­tan­gu­lar space the four cor­ners could each be filled with a fruit tree. Other vari­a­tions could be the in­stal­la­tion of a trel­lis be­hind each raised plant­ing box, and a foun­tain or even a fire pit in place of the lemon tree in the cen­tre of the gar­den.

There are two dis­tinct sides to the gar­den; a de­lib­er­ate yin and yang with calm­ing herbs on one side, and en­er­gis­ing herbs on the other. Gen­tly curv­ing outer walls de­scend like steps to­wards the en­trance or exit on ei­ther side and en­close an in­ner sec­tion of tiered beds, also oval in shape and sur­rounded by gravel. Van Aswe­gen prefers the oval shape be­cause it’s softer to work with.

The de­sign also in­cor­po­rates six dif­fer­ent lev­els, break­ing up the space so that one side of the gar­den can­not be seen from the other. It’s a novel ap­proach to deal­ing with a sin­gle flat sur­face that is char­ac­ter­is­tic of a pa­tio. On the calm­ing side, Van Aswe­gen has planted fra­grant herbs such as laven­der, rose­mary and chamomile while the op­po­site side has vi­brant, en­ergy-giv­ing herbs with lemony or pep­pery flavours and fra­grances.

What isn’t im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent is that most of the herbs are in pots which mean the look can be changed by mak­ing new ar­range­ments or re­plac­ing pots if the plants start to look past their best. Van Aswe­gen likes to use one herb plant per pot rather than com­bi­na­tion plant­ing and then com­bines the pots to make an at­trac­tive com­po­si­tion.

He prefers the earthy look of ter­ra­cotta pots and finds that the herbs also do bet­ter in them be­cause there is bet­ter aer­a­tion. Herbs are also planted in raised plant­ing boxes built into the walls. The plant­ing boxes also dou­ble as seat­ing ar­eas.

The broad ledges built out from the walls are broad enough to ac­com­mo­date cush­ions so that it can quickly be turned into an en­ter­tain­ment area. The en­cir­cling walls also cre­ate a serene sense of en­clo­sure that makes this a space for quiet­ness and re­flec­tion as well. The ex­ten­sive range of plants in­cludes a mix of culi­nary, medic­i­nal and beauty herbs, ground cov­ers for soft­en­ing the gravel sur­face and suc- cu­lents in hand­crafted con­tain­ers for ad­di­tional tex­ture.

Rep­e­ti­tion plant­ing, es­pe­cially of dra­matic plants like peren­nial basil, sweet basil, rose­mary “Tus­can blue” and laven­der give the plant­ing scheme a feel­ing of co­he­sion. Van Aswe­gen has also re­peated colours, es­pe­cially sil­ver and pur­ple, tex­tures and var­ie­gated fo­liage (sage, pineap­ple mint) for con­trast.

Be­cause of the pre­dom­i­nance of pots, the size of the gar­den makes it easy to main­tain. Ev­ery part of the gar­den is easy to reach (for pick­ing, prun­ing or feed­ing) and the en­tire area can eas­ily be wa­tered by a sin­gle over­head sprin­kler.

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