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Planning an herb spiral

Mar 15, 2011

This winter, I read the Permaculture bible, "Gaia's Garden".  I got a lot of ideas, many of which will need more time to incubate, and probably a bigger yard, but the first one I will be implementing is an "Herb Spiral".  Since we moved in, the "herb garden", if you can call it that, is a narrow strip of mostly-shaded dirt between a gigantic Rhododendron the size of a small bus and an even taller Japanese maple tree (both are probably north of 100 years old).  Next to a 6 foot tall solid fence, and banked by a pair of wisteria ... trees?   The herb garden is there, well, because the previous owner started some chives there, and mint, which is now nearly gone.  I think I'll let the mint return, it doesn't stand much of a chance of spreading in that spot, due to the shade, anyway.

Needless to say, our kitchen is missing a proper herb garden.  This has been on my mind as a puzzle to solve for about a year now, and when I read about the herb spiral in Gaia's Garden, I new it to be the right solution to the problem.  Right outside our back door is a concrete path that wraps around the house, and it has this perfect curve framing the lawn.  I couldn't wait for the snow to melt to figure out if it was actually going to work!  With leftover rocks from a stone wall project, we laid out the spiral and have been living with it for the past two weeks to make sure it's not going to adversely effect our path to the main kitchen garden.  And I have to say, it doesn't.  It's going to be great!  Sometime in the next week or so, we will build the center up into a mound to create multiple microclimates for the different herbs to enjoy.

There are several reasons to plant your herbs in a spiral.  First, it's interesting an beautiful.  Second, it's convenient, bringing some of the herbs up closer to standing height for less bending.  Third, it creates about a dozen microclimates for the different herbs.  Rosemary, for example, likes full sun, and well-drained soil.  It goes right on top of the mound   Parsley prefers partial shade and more moisture, it goes on the bottom, north side.  Oregano and Thyme, more moisture but full sun, so they get the southern slope.  By organizing the plantings of the herbs in height and orientation to the sun and the central mound, each plant can be given the conditions that they prefer, and yet all be right outside the back door when it's time for that pinch when you're cooking.


It looks as though you are going to have fun with your herb spiral. I started one, but discovered that the theory sounded good but didnt really work in practice here in the tropics - I have flattened mine out. I had hoped to be able to grow more "regular" herbs, but am adapting mine to grow the herbs I can grow in this climate. I am now hoping that mine will work better more spread out, rather than higher.
The pic is wonderful. Please keep us updated, I have something like this in mind for a big empty space in the way back of my garden.
After enjoying your spiral garden planning - a great stage for here where there is still snow on the ground - I visited Google Images & looked at Spirals, Spirals in Plants, Spiral Gardens, Spirals in Art & Spirals in Archeology - maybe my favorite. No ... Spirals in Plants is still my favorite of all! :-)
I have always dreamed of making a labyrinth, like the one I visit in the Poconos. The awesome pic of the spiral gardens in different seasons, just made up my mind! Today will be in the 70's in New Jersey, I think it might be time to lay out a new garden in a barren area. I was tinking of using low growing thymes, low growing mints and chamomile to make the spirial with dark brown mulch in the walking path. I have a small boulder of black/pink granite with fools gold in it, that I plan on using as the center piece. I'll post pics in a few weeks when it is done. This is the laybrinth at Kirkridge in the Pocono Mts in Pa.
Hi Jeannie Your picture reminded me of the 'Turf Mazes' in North Yorkshire. But i think they were an ancient game, rather than for growing things in. Your idea sounds excellent. A very fragrant way of making a productive garden. I like circles. The design of my back garden was based on two overlapping circles, until i dug up the circular lawn to put in some rised beds. Its a very good way of dividing up a rectangular space. Glenn
Is the herb spiral built like a strawberry bed in that the center is higher then the sides. I have some rocks, but I am not sure how to get the spiral above 12 inches(30cm) with out using something that can take the 50-80 pounds(110-176 kg.) of weight of large rocks. Maybe if I make the bed wider then the spiral, I can lay the rocks on the inside edge of the lower bed to form the upper bed. I have wanted a herbal spiral, after seeing Gillians.
Joel, the idea is that you want the top inside section to be as dry and free draining as possible. This is the section you would plant the mediteranean herbs - rosemary, etc. So the centre is made up of a pile of rocks for good drainage and then filled in with well draining soil. Also the rocks are supposed to absorb and retain a lot of heat so that makes the centre the warmest spot. then you continue to build the "wall" around in the circular pattern - this is supposed to draw the water away from the center and down into the lower part so that that part stays wetter and where you would plant the mints etc. One major problem I had with mine was that the cane toads invaded it and made their houses in the gaps in the rocks. That free draining soil was so easy for them to shove out of the way and my poor plants had their roots dangling in fresh air in the cane toads living room. Slowly I have added more and more compost and the cane toads eventually moved out. The rosemary still didnt like it on the top floor so I flattened it out a bit and have nasturtiums on the top and the bigger area alongside for parsley. Rosemary and mint are now in pots.
We had a resident cantaloupe-sized toad in the ivy by the water-pipe - it continued to prefer this home even though my sons packed it off to kindergarten show-and-tell two years in a row!
Yesterday, we had some friends over with their kids, so we got to play in the dirt and build up the herb spiral. We used soil left over from some containers that had been planted in past years with potatoes, leeks, artichokes, bush beans and husk cherries. The rocks, as I mentioned in my first post, were also left over, so this project cost us nothing but an hour with friends (well-spent!) and a chunk of lawn. I spent the morning planting more seeds of herbs to put in it. At least half of them are perennials, the others are annuals, and half of those ought to self-see, so the amount of work going into this will be greatly diminished next year. Today, it's snowing again, so the soil should have plenty of time to settle.
This is a truly great photograph - it is very meaningful to see your handprints in the soil. Thank you merryj!
I can't wait to see it planted. WOW!!! It's gonna look great.
looking good

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