If you’re fairly new to gardening, the herb spiral is one of the best beginning gardening adventures.
Creating one of these beautiful, functional pieces of landscape art will naturally teach you some of the most important gardening wisdom, wisdom that’s often left out of other “beginning gardening” classes and programs. If you’ve been gardening a few years growing ornamentals or annual vegetables, making an herb spiral might just transform the way you garden forever.
This is a spiral garden bed design promoted by Bill Mollison, is a great model of what we’re aiming for with “Transformative Adventures,” a learning experience that transforms the way we live and do things. Of course, they’re not necessarily the best tool for every site and every gardener, but for most homes, homesteads, and newer gardeners, they’re transformative.
So, what are the important natural gardening lessons imparted by this simple spiral? Here are a few:
- That growing food can be fun and easy! Buying these hardy perennial plants and planting them is a much more reliable way to learn and be successful with gardening than trying to create an full annual vegetable or flower garden as a beginner. In this way it helps build confidence.
- Using nature patterns, such as the spiral to create beauty and function.
- It teaches us to prioritize the most “transformative” efforts first. An herb spiral will last years and allow us to include the most highly nutritious and health enhancing plants on a daily basis. The herb spiral might be the most health enhancing bed in the whole garden.
- It teaches that a garden is more than just a place to grow food. We can create a beautiful natural environment for ourselves.
- To “catch and store” our energy into permanent well-organized projects with perennial plants, instead of just creating annual garden beds that require lots of maintenance.
- Microclimates, the herb spiral has different climates for different plants, everything from cool wet areas, to hot dry ones are created by the spiral’s design. That in turn teaches us to value the microclimates we have at home, instead of thinking that everything has to be a sunny garden bed with ”perfect soil,” we can make use of the special characteristics of the soils and aspects we have to work with.
- ”Right plant, right place.“ The herb spiral teaches us that each plant has its “niche“ and encourages us to learn a little about these dozen plants and where they thrive.
- It teaches us to look for ”design problems,” such as for grass encroachment, and to solve the problem with design instead of hand weeding labor.
- Efficiency, it teaches us to grow plants we use often right near the back or front door. And in a good herb spiral the only maintenance work can be harvesting, which is an amazing lesson in efficiency.
- Balance with nature. It teaches us that we can grow “intensive” gardens with food in permanent beds near the home. On the other end of the spectrum a semi-wild “guild” teaches us when and where to let nature do more work.
- It ideally uses recycled materials like “urbanite“ (recycled concrete or bricks) to teach us that we can make beautiful functional things from what society would consider “garbage.”
And finally, as visitors stop to admire the garden, the herb spiral teaches us how a we can create learning advetures for others. An herb spiral workshop is one of the first workshops community transformation activists around the world have used for decades to start community organizing and teaching others about more sustainable life ways. Sharing such a highly transformative garden design with family and community members builds consensus and vision, as well as our own social capital, head and heart authority. (Visit my pinboard on herb spirals to see citations or get more herbspiral ideas.) https://www.pinterest.com/luckymortal/herb-spirals/
Steps on the Herb Spiral Adventure:
1. Explore images and resources for instructions, plans and aesthetics. Consider making your own pinboard with your favorites, and posting a link to it in the comments!
2. Find a place to put it. Ideally, a traditional herb spiral will do best at the sunniest corner of the house, as close to the kitchen as possible! It should pass the fuzzy slipper test, allowing you to get to your herbs without getting the slippers wet after a rain. If it’s shady, how will you adapt the design? Maybe you don’t have the perfect spot! That’s okay, that teaches us to adapt and work with what we do have.
3. Start making a list of herbs you want. I recommend growing a good variety such as you’ll find in traditional designs, even if you aren’t familiar with them. Over time, you may decide to pull a few things and or perhaps use some herb spiral space for peppers or lettuce. This teaches us to allow our designs to evolve.
4. Collect materials. My favorite herb spirals use recycled materials. Try looking on Craigslist or on FB Marketplace. Stopping by construction sites can also be a good way to get materials. Perhaps your town has a municipal drop off for construction materials. If you can get extra materials, and have a place to store them, do! You could use them to set up an herb spiral workshop!
5. Look for design problems. With herb spirals, the biggest problem is encroachment of grasses. If it’s by the lawn and there’s no barrier, how will you keep grass out? Some ideas: weed barriers, digging around it with an edging spade, using fortress plants, creating other garden beds around it, mulching around it…. Have a design solution in mind!
6. Lay down cardboard to kill sod, if the spiral’s going on lawn. Then lay out the materials to form the spiral. Alternately you can dig up the sod, compost it and use this magical material to fill your spiral.
7. Choose a “filling.” Composted sod, especially composted clay sod may be the best growing medium on the planet! Just make sure the grass is dead. You can use regular garden soil, or a potting mix like “Mel’s Mix.” Or use “Mike’s MIx,” Which is 1/3rd pearlite or vermiculite, 1/3rd compost and 1/3rd rough unfinished mushroom compost or bark fines. Then top with cocoa mulch or chip mulch.
Put it all together!
Report back here on your accomplishment!