Growing your own herbs is a great way to enliven your home grown diet and stay fit and healthy. A herb spiral design is one solution as you grow herbs that you could consider for your garden. In this article we will examine herb spirals in a little more depth, and you will learn how to make a herb spiral in your garden.
Why Grow Your Own Herbs?
Before we take a closer look at the idea of a herb spiral design and learn how to make herb spirals, it might be useful to examine the reasons to grow herbs in your garden in the first place. Looking in a little more depth at why we grow herbs can help us decide where to grow them and, of course, which ones to include in our planting schemes. Here are some of the benefits of growing herbs:
- Herbs can attract pollinators like bees to your garden, making it easier to grow other food.
- They also attract other beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and lacewings, for example, and other creatures that will predate aphids and other pests and help to keep the ecosystem of the garden in balance. This will make it easier to deal with pests in an eco-friendly and organic way.
- Strong smelling herbs can also repel or distract pest species, helping to keep other crops and precious plants in your garden pest free.
- Some herbs are even said to make fruits taste better. For example, basil is often said to improve the taste of tomatoes when grown close by.
Of course, herbs are also directly useful to we humans. In addition to making it easier for us to grow our own food and manage an organic garden they also provide:
- Varied flavours for culinary use in herby recipes.
- Various fragrances and essential or infused oils that can be used in home-made cleaning and beauty products.
- Herbal remedies and natural medicine, to keep us well, or aid us when we are ill.
Some herbs can also provide other things – feed supplements for livestock, dyes, fibers and more…
Where To Grow Herbs
Before you decide to create a herb spiral in your garden, it is important to consider whether a separate herb garden is really a good idea. You could also consider incorporating annual herbs as companion crops in annual crop rotation vegetable beds, or finding a place for perennial herbs in a forest garden (or on its sunny fringes) or in a polyculture area or border.
A polyculture area is one which incorporates a range of different plants. The more suitable plants you can include in your garden, and the more beneficial interactions there are between them, the more resilient your garden and herb spirals will be – whatever the future may bring.
Planting herbs amongst your fruits, vegetables and ornamental planting can maximise productivity and allow you to make the most of their properties to improve your garden for yourself and for the local wildlife.
However, in addition to including herbs in other parts of your garden, it can still be a great idea to have a dedicated herb spot. That is where a herb spiral can come in.
What is a Herb Spiral?
Small herb spiral design just planted up – notice the shape of the spiral.
A herb spiral is a structure, in spiral form, that is designed to maximise the number of different herbs (with different requirements) that can be grown in a relatively small space in your garden. Generally speaking, herb spirals are between 1 and 2m in diameter, and have a curving area that descends in a clockwise spiral from a peak at the centre to its lowest point on the shadiest side of the mound.
Herb spirals can have a solid spiral structure that runs throughout, made from solid materials you have to hand. It can also be a softer and less permanent garden feature, made using hugelkultur (mound culture) techniques. The methods involved in creating both of these types of herb spiral are covered below.
A herb spiral looks attractive and mimics one of the patterns that is commonly found in nature. One of the amazing things about a herb spiral is that you can make it what you will. One herb spiral design can look very different to another. Some, for example, are neat and regimented and look perfect in a more formal planting scheme. Others, however, are far more natural and organic looking, and look lovely in a more informal cottage garden setting. The flexibility of the idea means that a herb spiral can look great and perform well in almost any garden.
Choosing a Location For a Herb Spiral
Before you dive in and start building a herb spiral, it is important to make sure that you choose the right location. When thinking about locations for herb spirals it is important to consider:
How much sun the herbs will get.
It is usually best to place a herb spiral in a sunny and open location. Think about how sunlight hits your garden throughout each day and throughout the year. The optimal light levels will of course depend on which herbs you intend to grow. But many common herb choices will appreciate plenty of light. Bear in mind that the herb spiral will have a sunnier side and a more shaded side. (In the northern hemisphere, the sunnier side is the south facing one, while the shady side is north facing.)
How sheltered the location is.
A herb spiral should ideally be placed in a sheltered location, where your herbs will not be buffeted by extreme winds. If you have a windy garden, consider creating a shelter belt of trees and shrubs, or a wind-break hedge, before creating your herb spiral.
Watering and water sources.
How you will water your herb spiral when required, and how far the location you are considering is from sources of water. Placing your herb spiral close to a rain barrel, for example, could make your life a lot easier.
How far the site is from any other areas.
Keeping a herb spiral close to vegetable beds or other food growing areas is a good idea, as the herbs could help attract beneficial wildlife to them. Keeping food production areas close together will also make them easier for you to tend and harvest.
Proximity to your home (especially your kitchen).
Finally, you should also think about how far your herb spiral will be from your kitchen. When you are growing culinary herbs, or herbs to use in other ways in your home, it is best to keep the herb spiral as close to your kitchen as possible. The closer it is, the easier it will be to go outside and grab what you need as you need it. All primary production areas should be close to the centre of operations, while zones that you visit less frequently should be further away. This is just plain old common sense. But it is especially important to have a dedicated herb space close to your kitchen or back door, since these are usually harvested for individual meals, a little at a time, on a regular basis.
Sourcing Materials for a Herb Spiral
In order to start building your herb spiral, the first thing you will need to do is source the materials that you will use to build it. The things that you will need will depend on whether you plan on building a solid spiral structure that will last, or intend to create a more temporary hugelkultur spiral for your herbs.
For a Solid Spiral Design
For a herb spiral with a solid spiral wall running throughout, you will obviously need the materials to construct this structure. There are a wide range of different materials that you could consider using. For your herb spiral to be as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible, it is a good idea to consider using materials that you already have access to, or which you can source easily from as close to home as possible.
One place to look for resources to create your spiral structure is the natural world around you. For example, you could consider using:
- Logs cut from local trees, placed upright and cut to different lengths to create your spiral form.
- Rocks or stones from the ground in your garden, or nearby. (Either dry stacked, or mortared.)
- Clay from your garden formed into a cob or adobe with straw or other locally sourced natural materials.
Another place to look for the materials you need is in the realm of reclaimed or recycled materials. You could consider using, for example:
- Reclaimed timber.
- Reclaimed bricks or stone.
- Glass bottles held together with clay or mortar.
These are just some options to consider.
Of course, you will also have to consider the creation of the growth medium. (More on this below.)
For a Hugelkultur Herb Spiral
Hugelkultur herb spiral.
With a hugelkultur herb spiral, you will create a mound of natural materials before marking the spiral on the top – with rocks and stones, shells, or other natural or reclaimed materials.
For the base of your mound, you will need:
- Some (ideally partially rotted) logs.
- Branches and smaller twigs.
- Green (nitrogen rich) compostable materials. (Like grass clippings, green leaves and kitchen scraps.)
- Brown (carbon rich) compostable materials. (Like cardboard, paper, straw, dry leaves etc..)
- A good compost/ soil mix with good soil to finish it off.
The last four items on this list could also be of use if you plan to build up the growing space in your solid herb spiral using the lasagna method for creating raised beds of any kind. Using this method is a good idea if you wish to avoid having to use/ buy in a lot more compost to create your new herb growing space. It can also help to create a good quality growing space.
In addition to the materials to make you herb spiral, you will also need a spade, and a wheelbarrow will make it easier to move the materials. A pair of gloves could also come in handy to protect you from splinters etc..
How to Build Herb Spiral
So, now you have all the materials, and have placed them close to the location you have chosen to build your herb spiral:
- Mark out the spiral on the ground. The easiest way to do this in an eco-friendly way is by sprinkling flour in a line to mark out where you want your herb spiral to be. You can also lay out string to mark the path that you would like your solid spiral to take, or the circular shape of your hugelkultur mound. (Use a string wrapped around a cane to form a circle if you are struggling to make a circular shape.)
Preparing the Ground
- If there are already larger plants in the space where you would like to create your herb spiral, take some time to remove these and bring the site back to bare soil.
- If you are building your herb spiral on grass, or bare soil, lay out cardboard to suppress weeds and reduce the number that popping up amongst your herbs. You could also consider removing turf before you begin. (The turf you remove can be stacked upside down to create a loam that you can use later.) However, in a ‘no dig’ system, we want to disturb the soil as little as possible, so it is better to leave the turf in place and keep the soil ecosystem intact.
- If you are building on an area of hardstanding, you can simply build up your spiral on top of this, though bear in mind that it is important to make the base of the spiral deep enough to accommodate the root systems of your herbs and to provide adequate nutrition.
Building the Structure
- For a solid structure herb spiral, the next stage is, of course, building the spiral form that will contain your herb space. Begin at the centre and build your descending spiral with the material or materials that you have chosen.
- For a hugelkultur mound, begin by placing logs/ partially rotted wood at the heart of your circular space. Cover this heap of logs will other smaller branches and twigs. Next, add brown and green compostable materials over this heap in thin layers. Use your feet to tamp down and compress the pile somewhat to form a sturdy mound.
Adding Your Growing Medium & Finish Off Your Herb Spiral
- Just as you were beginning to build up the structure of your hugelkultur using the various natural materials you have collected for the purpose, so too you can layer up thin sheets of green and brown compostable material in a solid spiral structure. By composting in place you can create a fertile growing spot.
- Make the spot ready for planting by topping the spiral’s growing spot or your hugelkultur mound with a layer of good quality compost/ soil into which you can sow seeds or place your plants.
- Finally, in your hugelkultur herb spiral, place the stones or other markers in a spiral pattern to mark out the growing areas of the mound.
Planting Up Your Herb Spiral
Herb spiral planted up and going strong.
Planting up your herb spiral correctly is just as important as making it in the right way. This is an important part of the process.
Choosing Which Herbs to Include
It is important, when choosing herbs for your herb spiral, to consider the following:
- The weather and conditions where you live.
- The soil type into which you are planting.
- Your own personal tastes and requirements. (Think about why and how you will be using each of the herbs in question.)
- Benefits each herb could provide to neighbouring plants or wildlife.
Generally speaking, you should consider avoiding herbs that could spread too vigorously and take over the herb spiral. If you plan on planting mint, for example, it would be best to do so within a buried container, so as to limit its spread.
Tips For Placement of Common Herbs
- Rosemary, Thyme, Lavender, Marjoram and other Mediterranean Herbs:
These like dry and fairly warm conditions. Set them at or near the top of the herb spiral on the south facing side (north in the southern hemisphere). Rosemary and lavender should be top centre of your herb spiral because of their deep roots.
- Sage, Oregano:
These herbs are amongst those that also thrive in dry conditions but benefit from the shade of plants above them on the herb spiral.
- Coriander, Dill, Basil:
These plants like more moisture than the above and yet still benefit from being in full sun, (at least in cooler climates) so should be placed lower but on the sunnier side of the spiral.
- Parsley, Mint, Chives:
These plants and others will enjoy shadier and more moist conditions on the cooler side of your herb spiral near the bottom of the spiral. The bottom of the spiral is where the entrance of the spiral sits.
Of course, there are plenty of other herbs to consider when it comes to making the most of your herb spiral.
Elizabeth Waddington is a smallholder, permaculture designer and environmental consultant. When not designing food producing systems or advising growers around the world, she is to be found in her own garden. On her 1/3 of an acre patch of land she has a walled forest garden orchard (home to rescue chickens), a polyculture vegetable plot, a polytunnel, wildlife pond, wild woodland garden and more and is working every day towards greater self-sufficiency. She is passionate about sustainability and loves to inspire others about the wonderful things home gardeners can do for people and planet.