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15 Benefits of a Herb Spiral in Your Garden

If you have limited space or sun; are sick of trekking outside at night to harvest herbs by torchlight; and don’t have much time to manage your garden, then creating a Herb Spiral Garden close to your kitchen might be just the solution you need.

What is a Herb Spiral?

 

The Herb Spiral is a highly productive and energy efficient, vertical garden design. It allows you to stack plants to maximise space - a practical and attractive solution for urban gardeners. It is typically 1.5 – 2m (5 – 6.5ft) wide in diameter at the base, ascending to 1.0 – 1.3m (3.2 – 4.2ft), with the centre of the spiral at the highest point. The spiral ramp provides a planting area large enough to accommodate all your common culinary herbs.

 

Large long herb spiral with dry microclimate at the top and a moist zone at the bottom. | The Micro Gardener

The Herb Spiral is easily accessible from all sides - to plant, water, fertilise and harvest. Most importantly, it’s located conveniently close to the kitchen!

 

“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.

 

Spiral patterns found in nature | The Micro Gardener

Spiral patterns found in nature


“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 it Works

 

This Permaculture design maximises the natural force of gravity, allowing water to drain freely and seep down through all layers – leaving 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 allowing 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. This design offers you multiple options in a compact space.

 

Herb Spiral Design Concept Drawing | The Micro Gardener

Herb Spiral Design Concept Drawing

 

The stones, rocks, bricks or blocks used to build the spiral retain heat absorbed during the day and insulate the garden at night, keeping it warm when temperatures drop.

These materials form the backbone of the spiral structure which is filled with organic matter and nutrients to plant into. The spiral is watered from the top and moisture filters down to the bottom, creating different moisture zones. The bottom of the spiral can be closed off with bricks/rocks/blocks or left open to allow water to flow into a small pond or bog garden at the bottom, ideal for frogs or edible water plants that prefer a wet environment. The niches in between the bricks/rocks can be planted with shallow rooted ground cover herbs like oregano or pennyroyal.

 

Herb Spiral Diagram

Diagram showing location of the optional pond or bog garden at the bottom

 

Herb Spirals can be orientated 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 – this 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 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.

 

YouTube Preview Image

 

15 Benefits of a Herb Spiral Design

 

I love this concept because it’s so multi-functional and provides us as 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. The mounded spiral ramp maximises the surface area for planting. Herb spirals can be built on a base as small as a 1m 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 loving shade herbs such as watercress and mints at the bottom; and 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.

 

Herb spiral design | The Micro Gardener

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 their growing needs (sun, water and shade), your plants will thrive and be far more productive. You can group and plant them according to their growing habit as well. Like an umbrella, taller herbs can help shade those that prefer more sun protection.
  • 4. Beautiful garden feature. A striking curved spiral draws the eye as a focal point for your garden. It creates height; becomes a unique talking point for visitors; and is aesthetically pleasing, particularly when most garden designs focus on low horizontal beds and containers.

 

Feature spiral garden with both herbs and vegetables. | The Micro Gardener

This is a great example of using a herb spiral as the main feature of the garden with a combination of herbs and vegetables. Both beautiful and functional.

 

  • 5. Concrete jungles are no barrier. Herb spirals can be built straight on top of concrete or hard surfaces.
  • 6. Convenient, 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 spiral and can plant your most used plants at waist height – no bending! Plus you have the convenience of shopping in your backyard supermarket without having to leave home.
  • 7. Save 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. Only picking WHAT you need, WHEN you need it definitely saves you money.

 

Bunches of thyme | The Micro Gardener

Why pay for more than you need? If you only want a few sprigs of thyme you can waste money buying a whole bunch.

 

  • 8. Low maintenance – If you feel large gardens take too much time and effort, a herb spiral may be a solution. After initial construction, only minimal maintenance is required – attending to watering, harvesting and topping 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; and no time is wasted travelling.

 

Freshly picked salad herbs and greens = maximum nutrients. | The Micro Gardene

So you can feel good about reducing your carbon footprint while maximising the nutritional value of the food you grow.

 

  • 10. Water management. If you live in a high rainfall area, this design maximises drainage; if you live in a dry climate, you will benefit from the moisture retained at the base of the spiral. By locating plants that don’t drink much at the top, no water is wasted – 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 – a dry climate solution.
  • 11. Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Most fragrant herbs are useful as pest deterrents so interplanting your herb garden with fast growing salad ingredients like lettuce, rocket/arugula, spinach, and Asian greens is a strategy to help more food to make it to your table before it gets eaten! Pest insects are less likely to bother them when they are neighbours with 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.

 

Bee feeding on Orange Cosmos flower, an excellent companion plant | The Micro Gardener

Bee feeding on Orange Cosmos flower, an excellent companion plant.

 

  • 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, or advertised in the classifieds or weekend garage sales.
  • 14. Simple to irrigate. Drip irrigation can be integrated up the centre and along the spiral planting ramp during construction and connected to your water mains, making watering effortless and time saving. Alternatively a central sprinkler will avoid wasting water.
  • 15. Create habitat and biodiversity. Beneficial creatures like lizards and frogs will move in to your pond or bog garden at the bottom.

 

Frogs will take up residence even in a small pond. | The Micro Gardener

With a diet of insects, frogs will help with pest management. If you provide the 'house' and there's a food source, they'll move in!

 

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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Spiral mosaic images via: Top Left; Top Right; Left Middle Row; Centre; Bottom Left; Bottom Centre; Bottom Right.

 

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© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2010-2013 – http://www.themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.

14 responses so far

14 Responses to “15 Benefits of a Herb Spiral in Your Garden”

  1. Berniehon 22 Jun 2012 at 8:29 am

    Fantastic article. Loads of useful information and great little video clip too. Very helpful stuff.

  2. [...] Herb spirals – this clever design system is most commonly used in Permaculture gardens and imitates a spiral much like the shape of a snail shell.  The design maximises the edge and a wide range of herbs can be grown in micro climates ranging from hot and sunny at the top to wet and shady at the bottom. [...]

  3. lynnon 28 Jun 2012 at 12:57 pm

    Beautiful idea. Congratulations on presenting it so well. Nice site, too. I will return.
    Thank you.

  4. The Micro Gardeneron 28 Jun 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Thanks Lynn for stopping by and appreciate your comment. Hope you’ll visit again for Part 2 and 3 where I will explain how to build a herb spiral, which plants go where and even some alternatives for those who just don’t have the space or resources. Cheers, Anne :)

  5. Scott Gordonon 04 Jul 2012 at 10:27 am

    Came here from the Natural news article. Impressive!
    This is a great idea and I appreciate you sharing it. I look forward to getting a place I can implement this.

  6. The Micro Gardeneron 04 Jul 2012 at 6:16 pm

    Hi Scott, thanks so much for your positive feedback – these spirals are very popular in Permaculture gardens here in Australia and as Permaculture started right where I live, I’ve had the opportunity to see many of them. There’s more to come very soon on how to build a herb spiral and plant it out. I’m currently at a massive garden expo setting up a balcony garden display and presenting some workshops. Tomorrow I’ll be watching another herb spiral being built in the giant kitchen garden area for the public to see. I’ll be sharing some pics on my Facebook page (. It’s certainly a practical design and an impressive garden feature. I look forward to sharing more with you soon. Cheers, Anne :)

  7. [...] To Projects & Recipes,Vegetables & Herbs,Vertical Gardens Want to make your own vertical herb spiral garden? This compact space saving design can be made with just a few basic [...]

  8. How to Plant out a Herb Garden |on 15 Aug 2012 at 3:00 pm

    [...] herb spiral design provides different microclimates you can plant into. Or think about the spots you have at your [...]

  9. Lucinda Coateson 28 Aug 2012 at 11:37 am

    Thank you for a simple but detailed explanation of just how to build a herb spiral. Lovely photos, too. I have a question: what is the reference for the “Figure 4.30. HERB SPIRAL” picture you have included? I want to use that in a herb spiral proposal for my work. I know it’s from an Australian permaculture book, but can’t remember title or author. Can you help? Thank you.

  10. The Micro Gardeneron 28 Aug 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Hi Lucinda
    Thanks for your lovely feedback and glad the info is useful. The Herb Spiral diagram is from “Permaculture: A Practical Guide for a Sustainable Future” by Bill Mollison – it’s the Permaculture ‘bible’ for students! You can find the image on p101. You may be able to borrow it from your local library.
    Hope this helps. Anne :)

  11. exhibition stands manufacturers ltdon 13 May 2013 at 1:20 pm

    With thanks from Tullylish ;)

  12. [...] If you have limited sun, space or time to garden but want a highly productive, energy efficient way to grow food then a Herb Spiral may be the perfect solution.  [...]

  13. Elizabeth Gloryon 13 Jul 2014 at 4:49 pm

    hi I LOVE your diy garden veggies because i have always wanted to do this myself!! One thing I do not know and cannot find on your site is how to dry herbs… do you know?
    thanks!
    Elizabeth Glory, Guam

  14. Anne Gibsonon 13 Jul 2014 at 5:26 pm

    Hi Elizabeth thanks for your feedback.
    I have included tips on drying herbs in my eBook A Sow Simple Guide to Using Herbs for Health. If you subscribe to my free monthly newsletter, you receive a complimentary copy or you can purchase it in my shop for just A$3.99 and download a readable & printable copy straight away. Hope this helps! Anne

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