From the magical Austrian Baroque Mirabell Palace Gardens in Salzburg, Austria, to the Victorian garden at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, I have always admired formal herb and flower gardens.
I applaud those gardeners who take the time to keep boxwood hedges trimmed, planting designs and ordered lines of flowers and herbs creating beautiful displays.
But this formal gardening style was never my specialty. The closest to deviating from what I prefer creating “naturalistic” landscapes that I got was creating a formal herb wheel garden, a style of gardening made popular during the Victorian period in history.
A raised herb wheel garden is quite a useful garden design for the homeowner. Besides keeping herb varieties in order, it allows the gardener to plant herbs together according to their cultural requirements, and culinary, medicinal or potpourri use. Although I prefer to plant culinary herbs exclusively, any herbs of preference can be used in this formal garden.
Although some wheel gardens actually use an old wagon wheel, these gardens can be constructed in any dimension that is desired.
In my garden I originally constructed the 10-foot diameter wheel garden out of the leftover cut ends of rot resistant eastern red cedar logs I had used for fencing material. After holding in the sides of my herb garden for three years, in 2012, I decided to replace the cedar logs with stone.
But if a more formal garden is desired, a mortared brick design can be constructed. If easy access to all parts of the garden is preferred, reducing the size of the garden to 6 feet in diameter will allow good access to the majority of the garden.
In constructing the garden the first step is finding a nice flat location in full sunlight. Next, a central point should be decided, and a stake driven into the ground to mark the spot. Once the center has been found and the diameter chosen, a string of the determined radius should be tied to a stake placed in the center. (In my garden design the radius was 5 feet).
Stretching the string out, the edges of the circle should be marked with stakes or rocks. After the circle has been plotted out, a string can be tied to the outside stakes, or what I find simplest is the use of garden hose to trace the outside edge of the circle.
Once the outside edge has been established, the raised bed site can be prepared. I highly recommend incorporating compost and if necessary adding more soil to the site to raise the soil level 8 inches above the natural soil’s surface.
A raised bed works best if the native soil is cultivated and new soil and compost is mixed with the soil from the site. For more information on building a raised bed, see extension handout “Raised Bed Gardening” at http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G6985.
Page 2 of 2 - After the garden soil is fully mixed and prepared, the walls of the garden can be constructed. If a highly formal garden is desired, each section of the wheel can be separated by a brick or stone and mortar “spoke.”
This separation of the garden plots allows the gardener to control the moisture level more exactly in each plot, allowing for the planting of herbs that need more moisture and herbs which need drier conditions to grow in proximity.
If you want to be daring and creative, trimmed miniature box wood or contrasting summer annual bedding plants such as begonias, planted in lines can be used as the spokes of the wheel separating the different sections of the herb garden.
But, if time is limited, a spoke such as one made out of 3-inch cedar logs can be simply laid across the surface of the garden.
Not only can herbs be planted in the wheel garden, but also more compact vegetables such as peppers can substitute herbs in one or more of the plots.
A raised round planter can be constructed at the center of the wheel to provide a contrasting high focal point to the garden. A tall annual could be planted in this planter; I prefer one that blooms all summer. Geraniums bloom all summer and can take the drying and heat the raised planter may undergo during the summer.
Remember, in any raised garden, the soil warms and dries faster than the surrounding soil, and irrigation is important during the hot dry summer months. Soaker hoses can be woven through the garden to provide irrigation during the summer.
If you are going to dedicate the time to construct a formal garden, the formal herb wheel design is a good place to start.