Designing with Herbs and Vegetables

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Years ago, when I was strolling the paths and grand alles of Villandry, I was surprised by the design of the herb garden.

You remember Villandry. It’s the most famous kitchen garden in the world. It’s a walled garden built in the grand French style. The nine beds are laid out like a giant quilt with varying textures and hues supplied by the vegetables. Dark green parsley, blue green cabbage, deep red basil, and chartreuse lettuce are planted in rectangles and squares and crosses. But the herb garden is a little more chaotic.

I wondered why the herbs and vegetables were planted in different styles. As a designer, I ponder such things.

Planting Herbs and Vegetables Separately

The reason the medicinal herb garden is planted separately from the vegetables is because these herbs are perennials that return year after year in the same place. Most vegetables are annuals and are changed out twice a year, so the paint-by-number scheme varies with the year and season.

All of this to say simply: plant herbs like thyme, oregano, lavender, cilantro, dill, winter savory, summer savory, chamomile, chives and sage in their own beds away from the vegetables so they remain undisturbed. I have always found it more convenient to plant perennial herbs and vegetables with perennial flowers and annual herbs and vegetables with annual flowers. It makes bed prep and maintenance so much easier.

A Modern Take

The medicinal garden of herbs at Villandry is planted separately from the vegetables because that’s how monastery gardens were planted. There was a historical precedence to follow.

These days the fashion is freedom: you can tuck herbs in the perennial border along with the coneflowers and peonies if you like.

My culinary herb garden is at the entrance to my potager, but I plant annual Greek basil, lemon basil, Thai basil, calendula, marjoram, and parsley in the raised beds along with my tomatoes and peppers. These herbs are great edgers for raised beds and mix just fine with vegetables.

Meet Jennifer Bartley

Jennifer Bartley grew up on a ravine near an ancient Indian mound. She remembers spending glorious childhood days picking wildflowers and playing in an old,…

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