Spiral Herb Garden by Debra Sturdevant
Originally published in the May/June '16 Essential Herbal
Through time the spiral has represented movement between inner and
outer worlds to a path leading from outer consciousness to the inner soul. It
has been found in both native American archaeology as well as ancient Celtic
lands where designs still bear the spinning form and can be seen anywhere from
three-spiral triskele jewelry to landscape designs worldwide and often utilized
in meditational gardens as spiral pathways. The spiral is found quite often in
nature seen in vines, seashells, wind patterns, water whirlpools, unfurling
fern heads, and the spinning of our planet to only name a few. It seems to be a pacifying design and since I
look to mother nature for insight and direction I decided to display my own
Celtic connections and set about making a spiral garden.
The materials for making a spiral garden are possibly free if you have stones on your property easily obtainable but if not, bricks, cement blocks or practically anything that can hold soil in place and be layered can be used to construct it. The next consideration is placement and an herb garden, especially one as condensed as a spiral, is always nicest close to your kitchen for easy access. A wheelbarrow, shovel, several used cardboard boxes opened out flat, gravel, small stone chunks, rich garden soil, 1-2 bags of potting soil, and your choice of herbs. Keep in mind that you are basically building a “permaculture” system which is an efficient self-sustaining eco-system. Your spiral will contain herbs that have different needs growing in one compact area. The natural force of gravity drains the water naturally down to the base. You create a micro climate allowing you to plant a large variety of herbs. The pinnacle where the spiral is highest dries faster and is warmest being a perfect area for Mediterranean herbs like rosemary and lavender to the base where the water naturally filters for herbs that are happier in wetter or shadier conditions like parsley, chives & mints. You also have a side that will be sunnier and one that remains shadier and cooler. When planting you will want to choose your back and top areas for the taller herbs so as not to shadow the smaller ones. The stone spiral absorbs the sun by day keeping the plants warm through chilly nights as well. Add in flowering herbs like chamomile, calendula and nasturtiums to attract pollinators like bees and butterflies, bringing color and beauty to your spiral creation as well as better health to the rest of your gardens. Gather your rocks picking ones that will stack solidly reserving any rounded ones for the top layer. It will take a few wheelbarrow loads to construct a spiral.1. Pick your spot and be sure it is as free of weeds and as level as possible. I keep boxes I receive for my business and this is a perfect project to re-use them! The cardboard will eventually return to the earth but will stop any weeds from taking hold. Open out and flatten your shipping boxes and begin to layer them overlapping completely within a circle that will be the circumference of your finished spiral. Make sure the box edges extend a few inches beyond the outside circumference. I choose a garden 8 feet in diameter. Newspapers or garden weed barrier can be substituted. You can begin laying out your spiral by eye layering one rock deep and turning inward where it began until you reach the center or you can use an inverted pail with a long string tied to one side and a marker tied to the other end. As you pull the string tight and begin to draw a circle it will decrease by the pails width as you go around. Bear in mind you want to have at least 12 inches of soil space between each rock wall for planting. I use the flatter, less attractive rocks for the bottom. When you have finished one layer of single rocks in your spiral shape you should put down a layer of gravel on the bottom of about 1-2 inches deep on the top of the cardboard. If some boxes poke out around the outside edge you can trim with a box cutter when your garden is finished.
2. As your spiral goes inward you will be layering your rocks to progressively to reach a height of approximately on to one and ½ yard high in the very center. You will want to use smaller broken rock pieces in the center of the spiral bottom to help take up some space before adding soil and it will help keep your formation from tumbling down as you build. You can use mortar to tack the rocks in place as you build layers if you want a truly permanent and stable structure. We experience a great deal of frost in the northeast so it wouldn’t survive the winter without mortar here as our ground freezes and thaws. Mossy or rounded rocks look beautiful used on the very last top layer and I scattered a few small fossil and river rocks here and there to give it an ancient look.
3. Now you add your rich composted garden soil gently patting it in followed by a few inches of potting soil. Gently water and let sit a day or two before planting to be certain you don’t need more soil.
4. Plant your herbs keeping the micro climates, shade & sun in mind. Your perennials will spread and grow so leave enough room between plants to accommodate those that are prolific. The mints will need to be controlled with occasional removal of under shoots. You can end the spiral with a cap stone or dig a little pond to attract frogs and lizards that will help control unwanted insects and provide moisture for your moisture loving plants.
This is a fun and rewarding project that takes little expense
especially if you have divided herb plants and will be a stunning focal point.
It’s convenient to take a basket and clippers out to gather so many herbs in
one spot. Have fun!
Debra Sturdevant is an artist and herbalist living in the adk foothills of upstate NY.