Herb Spiral Design
Do you have limited sun, space or time to garden? Want a highly productive, energy efficient way to grow food? Then consider a herb spiral design in your garden. Creating a Herb Spiral close to your kitchen might be your perfect solution.
What is a Herb Spiral?
The Herb Spiral is a highly productive and energy efficient, vertical garden design. You can stack plants horizontally AND vertically to maximise space. It’s a practical and attractive solution for urban gardeners. A herb spiral design is typically 1.5 – 2m (5 – 6.5ft) wide in diameter at the base and rises to 1.0 – 1.3m (3.2 – 4.2ft). The centre of the spiral is at the highest point. The spiral ramp provides a planting area large enough to fit in all your common culinary herbs.
“We can often use the spiral form in design, both to create compact forms of otherwise spread-out placements and to guide water and wind flows to serve our purposes in landscape.” – Bill Mollison, Permaculture: A Practical Guide for a Sustainable Future
This clever pyramid design was inspired by nature and created by Bill Mollison, co-founder of Permaculture.
“The spiral is the most efficient way of storing things and saving space. The herb spiral can fit a large amount of growing bedding in a compact structure that is easy to fit outside your kitchen door.” – Adrian Buckley
How does a Herb Spiral Design Work?
This Permaculture design maximises the natural force of gravity. It allows water to drain freely and seep down through all layers. This leaves a drier zone at the top (perfect for hardy herbs) and a moist area at the bottom for water lovers. The design also creates microclimates. This allows you to plant a diverse range of herbs in a variety of positions (sunny, sheltered and shady). In a typical garden bed or pot, all plants are grown on the one level. So the growing conditions are the same. The herb spiral design offers you multiple options in a compact space.
The stones, rocks, bricks or blocks used to build a herb spiral, retain heat absorbed during the day. This helps insulate the garden at night, keeping it warm when temperatures drop. A major advantage in cold climates!
These materials form the backbone of the herb spiral structure, which is filled with organic matter and nutrients to plant into. The herb spiral garden is watered from the top. Moisture filters down to the bottom, creating different moisture zones.
The bottom of the herb spiral can be closed off with bricks, rocks or blocks. Or it can be left open to allow water to flow into a small pond or bog garden at the bottom. An ideal habitat for frogs or edible water plants that prefer a wet environment. You can plant the niches in between the bricks or rocks with shallow rooted ground cover herbs like oregano or pennyroyal.
You can also orientate herb spirals so they are built in the same direction that water flows down a drain. Water rotates down a drain in a clockwise direction in the Northern hemisphere, and anti-clockwise in the Southern hemisphere. Likewise, in the herb spiral garden. In our Southern hemisphere here in Australia, the bottom of the spiral where the pond is sited (if using one) faces south. A southern position helps reduce evaporation and maximise moisture and shade. The reverse applies for the Northern hemisphere.
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Before I share some of the benefits of this herb spiral design, take a moment to visualise the concept with this video. It shows you how you can also build a herb spiral in an oval shape to take advantage of a sunnier position and plant it out with vegetables instead of herbs.
15 Benefits of a Herb Spiral Design
I love the concept of the herb spiral design because it’s so multi-functional. It provides urban gardeners with solutions to many common problems. These are some of the advantages I can think of:
- 1. Grow more food in less space. Instead of planting on a flat surface, the mounded spiral ramp maximises the surface area for planting. Herb spirals can be built on a base as small as a 1m (3 ft) diameter. So even the tiniest garden can maximise vertical growing potential.
- 2. More variety in a range of microclimates. There’s a perfect zone for all your herbs. Position ‘sun worshipping’ oil-rich herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme at the top. Water and shade loving herbs such as watercress and mints at the bottom. Plant your other herbs in between, where best suits their needs. With these diverse microclimates, you can grow plants that prefer different growing conditions all in the one garden space.
- 3. Healthier herbs. When you meet your plants’ growing needs (sun, water and shade), they will thrive and be far more productive. You can group and plant them according to their growing habit as well. Like an umbrella, taller bushier herbs can help shade those that prefer more sun protection. Trailing hardy herbs can hang over the edge soaking up the heat from the bricks or rocks.
- 4. Beautiful garden feature. A striking curved spiral draws the eye as a focal point for your garden. The herb spiral design creates height and is a unique talking point for visitors. This feature is visually pleasing, particularly when most garden designs focus on low horizontal beds and containers.
- 5. Concrete jungles are no barrier. Herb spirals can be built straight on top of concrete or hard surfaces.
- 6. Convenient with easy access for maintenance and harvesting. If you have limited space and mobility or suffer from a bad back when you garden, you can effortlessly reach to the centre of the herb spiral design. You can plant your most used plants at waist height – no bending! Plus you have the convenience of ‘shopping’ in your backyard supermarket close to your kitchen, without having to leave home.
- 7. Save and earn money. Considering the rising cost of food, a herb spiral will quickly pay for itself after you’ve been harvesting for a season or two. With busy lifestyles and little time to menu plan and cook efficiently, fresh food often ends up wasted in the fridge. Why buy a bunch of herbs if you only need a small amount? You’ll definitely save money by only picking WHAT you need, WHEN you need it. You can also grow more herbs than you need and sell them. A bonus to your budget.
- 8. Low maintenance. If you feel a large garden takes too much time and effort, a herb spiral may be a solution. After initial construction, only minimal maintenance is required. If you set up irrigation, you won’t even have to water. Just feed seasonally, re-sow, harvest and top up with mulch.
- 9. Save time, energy and food miles. Growing the bulk of your herb requirements at your kitchen door is extremely energy and time efficient. No fuel is consumed driving to the grocery store for last minute herbs. No refrigeration or energy is used in storage when you pick your herbs fresh, as you need them. Best of all, no time is wasted travelling! Flavour, nutrient value and freshness will be at their peak. Good for your health and wallet!
- 10. Water management. If you live in a high rainfall area, the herb spiral design maximises drainage. If you live in a dry climate, you will benefit from the moisture retained at the base of the herb spiral. Locate plants that don’t drink much at the top, so no water is wasted. Water runoff is collected and absorbed as it filters down to the thirsty plants at the bottom. If you include a pond pump at the bottom, you can recirculate water back up to the top. This is an easy dry climate solution.
- 11. Integrated Pest Management (IPM). You can use most fragrant herbs as pest deterrents. Interplant your herb spiral garden with fast growing salad ingredients like lettuce, rocket/arugula, spinach, and Asian greens. This strategy can help you get more food onto your table before it gets eaten! Many pest insects are repelled by strong smelling herbs.
- 12. Easy Companion Planting. Many herbs have mutually beneficial relationships with other plants. Flowering herbs also attract beneficial pollinating insects like bees, butterflies and wasps. Growing the herbs ‘up close and personal’ in a herb spiral helps the overall health of your garden. Flavours improve, less pests and better pollination. Include herbs like chamomile, borage, calendula, French marigolds and nasturtiums.
- 13. Low cost to build. Use whatever materials you have easy access to or can use to retain the soil. If you make your own compost, the cost will be minimal. Landscape and salvage yards may have small quantities of blocks or building materials you can get for a bargain. Look for end of line sales. Cracked or chipped pavers or bricks (which can be faced inwards on your spiral) and rocks from cancelled jobs may be very cheap. Check out building materials advertised in the classified ads or at weekend garage sales.
- 14. Simple to irrigate. You can integrate drip irrigation up the centre and along the spiral planting ramp during construction. Connect to your water mains to make watering effortless and time saving. Alternatively, install a central sprinkler to avoid wasting water.
- 15. Create habitat and biodiversity. Encourage beneficial creatures like lizards and frogs to move in to your pond or bog garden at the bottom of your herb spiral. Add suitable plants and these creatures will become helpful ‘pest managers’. They keep mosquitoes and other insect populations in balance and can be part of your organic pest management strategy.
This design works so well in school and community gardens too, where produce is often shared. Getting a group of people together to build one, brings a community or neighbours together plus it’s a fun learning experience.
So, if you want fresh, nutritious and aromatic herbs to use in your kitchen and a fragrant, beautiful garden feature that saves you space, time and money … consider creating your own herb spiral.
Part 2 outlines a 4 Step Guide to Building A Herb Spiral and in How to Plant out a Herb Garden, I share a herb plant list to make it easy for you to know what to plant where and tips for laying it out.
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