Jane Petry owns Manor Farm Herbs, so we asked her for advice on designing a herb garden.

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When designing a herb garden, no matter what size, position is key. Most of the popular culinary herbs, with the exception of mint, need a warm sunny spot with well-drained soil.

The soil need not be too fertile and rich, as many herbs such as rosemary and thyme originate from dry Mediterranean hillsides.

If you are going to be using your herbs in the kitchen then a spot convenient to the house is best. It's fine in summer to stroll to the end of the garden for your herbs to add to your meal, but in winter you will not relish having to find boots, coat and a torch to find that necessary sprig of thyme!

A herb garden can be almost any size and shape. Basically, the choice is between a formal or informal design, depending on which will most suit the space you’re using as a whole.

Formal

A formal herb garden is geometric and divided into symmetrical areas, each outlined by paths, stepping stones or some form of dwarf hedge or edging. The garden as a whole can be any shape, rectangular, triangular, circular or even more elaborate. The overall shape is then subdivided into sections to make a pattern, for instance a circular bed divided up like a cartwheel with different herbs in each triangular section.

Informal

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An informal herb garden is a more relaxed design and can be incorporated into an existing border if necessary. Depending on the herbs that you choose, the garden can resemble a cottage garden, herbaceous border and even have small rockery incorporated into it for height and contrast. Decorative effects are brought about by the grouping of different herbs and foliage types within the border. There are lots of books available and articles online with detailed and exciting plans for herb gardens to consult for ideas.

Which herbs to choose?

Generally, the most popular herbs to be planted are the culinary ones. However, you may be interested in plants for cosmetic or medicinal use or you may wish to start a collection of a particular genus, for instance a bed devoted to thyme plants in their many and varied forms.

Culinary

If you are looking at planting herbs to use in the kitchen or to sell at the gate for cooking, it is important to choose herbs which you and others like to use. This isn’t as obvious as it sounds - herbs thrive and look best when they are constantly pruned by removing sprigs for cooking. Make a list and draw up a rough planting plan based on the ultimate size of each herb.

Think about height, colour and texture combinations with your planting.

Pairings 

The dark foliage of purple sage contrasts well with silver leaved plants such as Thyme Silver Posie and curry plant.

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An area of golden foliage contrasts well with bright greens. Golden marjoram and lemon variegated thyme are the perfect foil for the emerald green of parsley plants.

Try to include areas of different textures. Spiky uprights such as chives and rosemary, contrast well with lower growing softer foliage types such as the oreganos and alpine strawberries.

Colour

It's always nice to have some flowers in the herb garden, even if it is planted for culinary use. Cowslips flower early, as do the various types of rosemary.

Marjorams and oreganos will give you midsummer blooms along with all of the thymes and lavenders.

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Thyme Wine and Roses

A variety of thymes, planted in groups of three, will give a longer flowering period. For instance, caraway thyme will flower first, followed by the creeping red and Caborn Wine and Roses and finally Prostratus and broad leaf thyme, giving a period of 6 - 8 weeks of flower.

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Thyme Prostratus

Later in the season Germander and Echinacea – both pink and white flowered varieties - will flower from August into the autumn.

Remember to give herbs such as thymes a trim soon after flowering, and they will reward you with a second flush of flowers in early autumn.

Lots of colour can come from the foliage without any flowers at all. For culinary use, the purple and golden (Icterina) sages are just as good to cook with as the plain green herb, golden marjoram can replace green pot marjoram, and Oregano Country Cream is, if anything, better flavoured than the ordinary green variety.

Herb gardens don’t have to be for herbs alone. Perennials with colourful flowers and attractive foliage are great to mix with your herbs, giving colour and impact to leafy herb beds.

Many will attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies to your garden as well.

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Echinacea

Try planting gorgeous Geums or lovely Lamium, or Polemonium 'Brise d'Anjou' for amazing foliage which will give an impressive splash of colour wherever it is planted.

Be aware

There are a couple of things important to consider when planning your planting.

Some herbs do get very tall. Lovage, angelica, cardoon and fennel are the most popular culprits. All four can grow up to 2m in height. Whilst they are lovely architectural plants, both useful and attractive, they would overwhelm a small herb garden after a year or so.

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Strawberry Mint

All of the mints can be very invasive. They are essential in cooking, and some like ginger and strawberry mint can be grown for their foliage or flowers as well as their culinary uses. They do, however, need to be grown in a plot or a large container where their spreading runners can be confined, otherwise they will swamp your newly planted herb area very swiftly.

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Manor Farm Herbs is a family business in rural North Oxfordshire established in 1990.

All herbs are grown on site and are raised under a 'conservationist regime'. This means that Jane and her staff rely entirely on biological control of pests and diseases and no chemicals are sprayed onto the herbs.

For more info visit manorfarmherbs.co.uk

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This article first appeared in Smallholder magazine - subscribe here or ask your local newsagent.