A herb garden bed is an essential part of your healing garden. Since ancient times, people of all cultures have cultivated herbs for remedial and culinary purposes. The special properties of herbs have been understood by healers in ancient civilisations, monks in medieval monasteries, shamanic healers of indigenous cultures and therapists of western society. Interest in healing herbs has increased over the last decades as people seek alternatives to chemical medicines or wish to try natural therapies to complement their prescriptions.
I have included a small herb garden (see above) designed in a formal cross shape, in my therapeutic garden. Slightly raised beds and a path of white chip define the rectangular design. A large terracotta strawberry pot in the centre acts as a focal point (I have yet to add a plant to the pot).
In the four beds I have included herbs such as fennel, dill, thyme, pineapple sage, lovage, lemon balm, marjoram and coriander. These are mostly perennial so will fill the beds year round.
Think of your healing garden as a work of art or a poem. When you design your garden, try to include a feeling of rhythm for the viewer. Just as a catchy musical piece has a repeating chorus and satisfying beat, or in a poem you can hear alliteration or repeating rhymes, in your healing garden add repeated groups of plants and thoughtful vertical interest in the plant heights.
Fig 1. Repeated plantings
Fig 2. Rhythm in the garden
Fig 3. Layered planting
In Fig 1 above you can see repetition of the grey foliaged Senecio together with the smaller grey Santolina. The clipped balls of grey add structure to the garden design. In Fig 2. the glossy leaved Ligularia is planted in several bold groups while the slender trunked Cordyine is repeated. Your eye tends to move between the groups as you seek out similar textures. There is also pleasing vertical interest from the low ground-huggers, up the slender trunks and across the the medium sized clumps. The variation in texture also creates interest and drama.
Fig 3. shows how the eye moves along the horizontal layers of concrete blocks topped by the small leafed divaricated ground cover, with explosions of bold subtropicals popping up at intervals. Nice and dramatic!
When designing your healing garden you can add mystery and interest by including symbolic shapes. Since ancient times we have been aware of the power of certain geometric shapes to evoke emotions and feelings. The very shape of our garden plot, growing beds and connecting pathways can be chosen with symbolism in mind.
Square shapes hold meaning for many cultures. The four sides refer to the four seasons, four directions or four elements. In Islamic culture the square shape refers to the heart. in Native American culture the square refers to the four stages of life i.e. birth, growth, maturity and death. We can add the square design to our garden to reference earthly life, security and permanence.
The cross shape is well known as a Christian symbol – the cross on which Jesus died. The Celtic cross with a circle around the middle is thought by some to be a blend of the Christian cross with the earlier Celtic symbol of the seasons. In Islamic culture the cross shape of water channels in garden design refers to the sacred source of water, wine, milk and honey.
I have included square symbols and cross-shaped symbols in my healing garden design in the following ways:
Square or cross symbols in the garden
The circular shape is among the oldest symbols. Ancient people the world over have used the circle to represent unity, wholeness, without beginning and end. It is often seen as a protective symbol or a sign of the life giving sun. In Zen Buddhist gardens the circular paths and stones used for meditation symbolise the wholeness of the world.
Spiral symbols are an ancient sign often imbued with feminine associations referencing the cycle of fertility, birth and life. Many ancient cultures from Scandinavian to Chinese refer to the spiral for spiritual purposes, for example the labyrinth walks, the mandala, cosmic spirals and prayer walks. The spiral is found naturally in shells, flowers and crystal formation.
Spiral symbols and circle symbols are chosen for meaning in my healing garden:
Have you ever been in a garden that is such a delight to walk through because it seems that each path just invites you to follow it, and each curve of a hedge beckons you to see what is around the corner. These gardens have been successfully designed to include an element of mystery. Just like looking at a painting if everything is revealed at the first glance of a garden, this can leave the viewer disappointed or bored. A bored viewer will quickly leave. However, there a number of devices designers use to draw the viewer in and stay longer.
One such device is the art of “conceal and reveal”. This is where certain parts of the garden are hidden until the viewer rounds a corner or perhaps crests a hill. You can add this element of surprise into your healing garden by creating one or two separate garden rooms. In my garden I use trellis panels to act as screens (see below). Tantalizing glimpses of what lies beyond the trellis encourage the visitor to “come hither”.
Another method of adding an element of surprise in your garden is to add an artwork or sculptural piece in a hidden corner. You could add a small fountain within a niche in a border so that you can hear the tinkling of water before you see it. I have added an attractive basin of water in a shady spot in a ferny glade (see below). The visitor sees it as they round a corner in a woodland walk that I have created.
Water basin hidden in the ferns
Element of surprise in your contemplative space.
Include paths that bend invitingly around corners. Straight paths just tend to take you from A to B. However, if you add seductive curves that no one can resist then your visitors will want to linger and be led astray…
In the photos above I have shown how adding plants with large leaves which drape into the pathway can add intrigue. Walking through a path where some foliage (not too much to trip you up) swishes against your legs can make it feel like a secret path.