Ever since first hearing about herb spirals I wanted to create my own. Here, at my new home in Cumbria, I had a fantastic opportunity to do so. Our landlord gave us some extra land to use for raised beds, which had been left uneven and covered in rubble.
In the rubble, I saw a herb spiral which needed to be created. I sat myself down to do some research. This provided me with a good base of knowledge to work with, as I wanted to make a good job of my little project. It was amazing to see the variety of sizes, materials used, and herbs incorporated. I decided to use bricks, as there were plenty to provide a solid spiral, and would make it relatively easy to construct.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to dig a pond in as I am at a rented property, where they have put plastic down to stop weeds, then gravelled over the top in the fenced garden space. I knew that I wanted mine to retain an organic feel, even though I was using bricks, and thought that by not really fussing over “perfection” and including attractive rounded rocks, I would be able to keep it feeling natural. I decided on a position in the garden which gets sunlight for the majority of the day, and based on what else I would like to have in the space.
Here are a few sources of useful information:
- All the benefits of a herb spiral: http://www.realfarmacy.com/15-reasons-to-build-an-herb-spiral-for-your-permaculture-garden/
- A nice little video: http://www.realfarmacy.com/how-to-make-an-herb-spiral/
- Simple building guide to follow: http://themicrogardener.com/4-step-guide-to-building-a-herb-spiral/
- Some conscise info and diagrams: http://tcpermaculture.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/permaculture-projects-herb-spiral.html
- A lovely cobble stone spiral: http://littlemountainhaven.com/how-to-build-a-herb-spiral/
I gathered the bricks and reserved some of the nicer rocks for decoration. Using a stick in a plant pot for the centre, I began by measuring out a 2metre diameter circle, but I decided it was quite large for the space and may need more resources than I had to hand – more bricks and more soil. Instead, I used a 750cm piece of string to mark out a circle of bricks (1.5metre diameter). I felt this sat much more comfortably in the space. I started by putting a brick at North, East, South, and West, then filled in the gaps. North is the bottom of my spiral, as I am in the Northern hemisphere. Part of the herb spiral design is to effectively create a drain for the water, which circles down to the North in the Northern hemisphere, and to the South in the Southern hemisphere (pretty easy to remember). This helps to create the different water requirements for each plant.
I then used bricks to delineate the spiral itself. I made it by eye, really, after making a sketch of the shape with the number of turns based on my research into other people’s designs. Once I felt happy with the overall shape, I added the second layer of bricks. It was exciting to see it take shape, I continued to add layers, increasing height as the spiral moved towards the centre, reaching 750cm high in the middle (it would be 1metre high for a 2metre diameter). I built up the interior with some rubble, as I didn’t feel it was necessary to have the soil going that deep. I then added compost (3 year old muck, free from the stables and full of worms!) I also added some top soil. Other spirals also used sand to create the free-draining soil that the herbs towards to top of the spiral prefer, but I hope that what I have done will be fine for the herbs.
During the building stage, I also researched the herbs that I would like. I knew that I wanted all plants and flowers to be edible. There is an amazing array of herbs, medicinal plants, and edible flowers. The list feels like it could go on forever, and I struggled to decide which plants I wanted. In an ideal world, with endless resources, I’d have one spiral with herbs and one with medicinal plants (there is crossover, but there would be plenty to fill 2 spirals!) I first acquired some of the standard herbs (oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, mint, and parsley) and then made a list of others which caught my eye. I created a basic planting plan for the spiral, to get an idea of which herbs should go where based on specific requirements.
Here are the plants, in order from the top of the spiral down, which I have decided to include:
- Lemon Balm
- Russian Tarragon
I was inspired by this list of medicinal herbs:
I bought the key plants I wanted, plus seeds for the plants I couldn’t find. Planting then commenced! I was very excited to see the herb spiral really take shape, and I can’t wait to see it fill out and for seedlings to fill the gaps. After a few days, some birds dug around for seeds, so I’ve now got netting over the seeded areas, which will hopefully protect it. I will see how the plants progress, and make any tweaks to the design as necessary.
Key elements to the Herb Spiral:
- Drainage from top to bottom – the bottom of the spiral is to the North in the Northern Hemisphere, and South in the Southern Hemisphere
- Creating microclimates for different plants’ requirements – water, light/heat, soil type
- Maximising the use of a small space efficiently in an aesthetically pleasing way
- Create a habitat for plants and wildlife (pollinators, insects, pond-dwellers)
Permaculture principles in use:
- Design from Patterns to Details – pattern of the spiral (found in shells, plants, etc) to create a mini ecosystem of microclimates for the different plant requirements.
- Use Edges and Value the Marginal – lots of edge around the spiral.
- Stacking – element of vertical gardening to use the space more effectively, and stacking uses of the plants. For example use in cooking and medicinal uses.
- Work with Nature – working with the natural systems including drainage of the water, working with movements of the sun, providing flowers for pollinators.
- Produce No Waste – recycled old bricks, stones and concrete, which were otherwise left without a use.
- Creatively Use and Respond to Change – will continue to tweak and add according to how well things grow.
- Obtain a yield – lots of herbs for cooking, salads, medicinal remedies, teas..
- Catch and Store Energy – catches rainwater and drains down the spiral, catches and retains heat energy in the bricks/stone.