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
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.