Last year we finally installed the double herbal parterres in the pergola lawn between the hornbeam allee to the East and my potager garden to the west. We framed out the Parterres with boxwoods for two reasons: to protect from foraging pests and animals and to provide structure for creating zones. It has been an interesting experiment and I have enjoyed it immensely.
A Tale of Two Herb Collections
The two parterres are divided north and south.
- The south parterre (behind the pond) is the medicinal herb garden. This parterre has two – not three – triangular sections and has fewer cultivars so there was room for the bio filter to fit in the third triangle. It also contains plants that have water loving roots. Most of the flowers and herbs in this parterre are used in teas, tinctures, and flavoring.
- The north parterre is a full knot parterre with three triangular sections. This is the culinary parterre. Full of cultivars that are used primarily in cooking and infusions. It is also conveniently located closer to the house.
The medicinal parterre contains basic cultivars like Yarrow, Stevia, Savory, Peppermint (in a pot!), Mojito Mint (in a pot!), Lavender, Echinacea, Chamomile, and Basil (it likes water!), and Aloe. Most of these are dried and used in teas and as dried additives.
The culinary parterre contains a wider array of culinary herbs. Thyme (French and English), Tarragon, Sage, Rosemary (in pots With trellises so the Rosemary can climb and to bring them in over winter), Parsley, Marjoram, Oregano, Leeks, Fennel, Dill, Coriander, Cilantro, Chives, Chervil, Basil (one can never have enough basil).
I was delighted to discover that nearly all of these herbs are perrenials. They came back on their own. With the exception of Basil and Rosemary. Our Rosemary rarely survives the winter in the house. I need to do more research on that.
Some Drawbacks and Benefits of the Parterre
One of the main drawbacks of the parterre system is space; The boxwood has a wide foot print. The boxwoods make it difficult sometimes to use my burlap mulching method. It’s not worth the effort to try to fit burlap into those triangular spaces.
Additionally, since all the herbs reseed, there is never a time where the beds are bare. in this instance, traditional compost and mulch works best. The boxwoods make stepping into the parterre a bit difficult, especially as they grow. Reaching over the boxwood hedge to get at tender herbs is a challenge sometimes.
The Benefits of the Parterres
The benefits of the parterre are numerous. The beds are always handsome. The boxwood holds in moisture and shades delicate plants.
The boxwoods keep large pests and animals out and make it harder for burrowing predators to get in there. Cats are the exception. They LOVE to lay in the Yarrow and Lavender and crush it down.
I love that the boxwoods keep chickens and ducks out of the parterre and protects delicate herbs from hungry poultry. And ironically, the boxwoods make it easier to weed the parterre triangles. Weeding in the parterre SMELLS divine. Boxwood and fresh herbs just go together well. Perhaps that is why so many monasteries paired herbs and boxwoods during the Middle Ages.
I cannot say enough about the aesthetics of the boxwood knot parterre. Boxwoods are really low maintenance and during the winter they give the gardens at Mezzacello a lot of visual interest. I have grown to appreciate the unique ecosystem they present in my urban farm.
I am glad we did it. I would do it again. What’s your herb story? Share with me. How do you manage your Rosemary?!