Designing a Rectangular Herb Garden for Small Spaces

For urban gardeners and anyone with a small yard, a rectangular herb garden design can help maximize every inch of precious growing space. With some planning and strategic planting, a compact rectangular herb bed can provide an abundant harvest of herbs for seasoning food or crafting herbal teas and remedies.

Benefits of a Rectangular Herb Garden Layout

A rectangular herb garden has several advantages:

  • Efficient use of space – Beds can be long and narrow to fit along fences, patios, or any small strip of yard. The rectangular shape makes watering, weeding and harvesting easy since all sides are accessible.
  • Orderly appearance – Straight lines and right angles give a tidy, organized look. For gardeners who like symmetry and structure, a rectangular layout is visually pleasing.
  • Easy crop rotation – The beds make it simpler to rotate herbs from year to year, which helps control diseases and pests.
  • Good for beginners – With its simple shape and access from all sides, a rectangular herb garden is easier to plant and tend than alternatives like a circular design.

For today’s urban farmer or anyone gardening in a condo courtyard, rooftop, balcony or postage-stamp lawn, a rectangular herb garden makes the most of every inch. With a bit of planning, even the smallest rectangle can yield an abundant herbal harvest.

Designing the Rectangular Beds

When planning a rectangular herb garden, consider the following factors:

Bed Width

The ideal width for rectangular herb beds is 3 to 4 feet across. This allows easy access from both sides without having to step into the bed itself and compact the soil. Beds any wider become difficult to reach across for tending, harvesting or deadheading spent flowers.

For large gardeners or those with disabilities, allow wider beds up to 5 feet across to accommodate your reach. Just be sure to incorporate “stepping stones” or planks across very wide beds to avoid soil compaction when tending the plants.

Bed Length

Rectangular beds can vary greatly in length and run any distance your space allows. In very small gardens, beds as short as 3 to 5 feet work fine. For larger spaces, stretch the beds out longer to maximize planting area.

Incorporate 3 foot wide paths between beds so you can move freely with a watering can or wheelbarrow. This prevents accidental trampling of plants when tending the garden.

Soil Quality

When filling rectangular beds, make sure to use high quality growing medium. Herbs thrive in loose, fertile, well-drained soil with plenty of rich organic matter like compost mixed in.

Many urban gardeners find it easier to build up raised beds and fill them with premium soil, rather than try to improve native soils. Raised beds warm up quicker in spring for an earlier start to the growing season.

Drainage

Rectangular beds must have excellent drainage, as most herbs hate wet feet. Incorporate gravel, sand or perlite into dense clay soils to improve drainage.

In low spots, dig in organic material generously or mound up the soil into berms or rows to keep roots up out of standing water after rains. Well-drained soil is crucial for healthy, productive herbs.

What to Plant

When deciding what to plant in a rectangular herb garden, keep these tips in mind:

Group by Growing Needs

To make watering and care easier, group herbs with similar needs together in sections across the garden beds.

For example, plant Mediterranean herbs like rosemary, lavender, sage, thyme and oregano in the sunniest sections since they thrive in hot, dry conditions. Choose a shadier spot for moisture lovers like mints, lemon balm, chervil and cilantro.

Space by Height

Consider expected mature size when situating herbs in the rectangular beds. Taller varieties like dill and fennel should go at the back. Reserve the front rows for low growers like thyme that only reach 6 inches high.

Medium height herbs like basil and sage can occupy the middle space. This tiered arrangement prevents taller plants from shading and crowding smaller neighbors.

Allow for Growth

While herb seedlings may be tiny, most expand rapidly. Give them room to reach full size. Quickly spreading herbs like mints and oregano need at least 12-18 inches between plants. Upright varieties like chives and dill require 6-12 inches.

If space is very limited, go for dwarfed compact varieties that don’t require much room to grow. Genovese basil, for example, can be substituted with the smaller Spicy Globe or Bush basil.

Plant Densely

While giving each herb adequate space is crucial, you can still plant intensively to maximize productivity. Rows can be as close as 6-12 inches apart depending on the herb’s expected spread.

Just be sure to use mulch, hand weeding and other organic methods to prevent crowding once the plants start expanding. Dense planting reduces weed competition.

Interplant with Flowers

Don’t leave any bare soil in the beds – it wastes space and allows weeds to sprout. Fill in with edible flowers like nasturtium, calendula and violets that also have culinary uses.

The flowers attract pollinators while repelling pests, benefitting the herbs. Plus they make the garden look ornamental.

Go Vertical

To get more growing area, take advantage of vertical space by trellising vining herbs like thyme. With a bit of training, many herbs can be coaxed to grow upward against structures.

Set up cages, towers or grids to support tall herbs like dill and fennel so they don’t collapse once top-heavy. You can double or triple the productive space by using both horizontal and vertical growing room.

Caring for a Rectangular Herb Garden

A well-designed rectangular herb garden won’t fulfill its potential without proper ongoing care:

Water Well

Herbs need about an inch of water per week from rain or irrigation. Group those with higher watering needs like basil and cilantro to make watering more efficient.

Use soaker hoses, drip irrigation or water gently at soil level to avoid wetting the foliage, which promotes disease. Let the soil dry between waterings.

Weed Diligently

Weeds compete with herbs for water and nutrients. In rectangular beds, you can easily see weeds and hand pull them as soon as they sprout.

Mulching with grass clippings, leaves or straw conserves moisture while blocking weeds. But take care to keep mulch from actually touching herb stems and leaves.

Feed Modestly

While herbs don’t need as much fertilizer as vegetables, they benefit from some nutrients after the initial planting. Use organic fertilizers like fish emulsion, compost tea or bone meal.

But go easy – excessive nitrogen causes lush growth prone to disease and flopping over. Follow label rates for herbs, and fertilize only every 4-6 weeks during the growing season.

Prune Regularly

To keep herbs lush and productive, pinch or snip off flower buds as they form. For woody herbs, shear or cut back by one-third throughout summer.

This stimulates dense, bushy regrowth. Let some herbs like dill and cilantro blossom and go to seed for harvesting.

Harvest Often

Clip herbs frequently to encourage more tender new growth. Snipping herbs like basil and mint also prevents them from blooming, which changes the flavor.

Use scissors for cleaner cuts that don’t crush stems. For tender leafy herbs, cut no more than one-third of the plant at a time to avoid stressing it.

Design Inspiration for Rectangular Herb Gardens

While a simple rectangular herb box works perfectly fine, you can also get creative with the shape while still reaping the benefits of an orderly layout. Here are some inspirational variations to consider:

Two Rectangles with Center Walkway

For a large space, having two long rectangular beds with a center path allows easy access for tending and harvesting. The walkway only needs to be 2-3 feet across.

Leave space along the back of the beds for taller herbs and trellised vines. Plant low growers up front. The two beds can each house herbs with similar needs to simplify care.

Rectangular Bed with Center Island

For visual interest, build a waist-high planting box with an open center “island” running lengthwise down the middle. Plant the tallest herbs and trellises in the island, keeping them from shading outer rows.

Surround the central island with herbs that get 12-24 inches tall. Use the outer perimeters for low spreaders like thyme that hug the box edges.

Elevated Rectangles with Trellis Sides

For very small spaces, build rectangular boxes out of 2×6 lumber on legs to raise them a foot or two off the ground for excellent drainage. Attach trellises to the short ends for climbers.

Place the raised beds over a patio, walkway or driveway. The added height makes tending and harvesting easier on the back without having to bend over.

Rectangular Herb Spiral

Make use of vertical space while still keeping an orderly layout by planting herbs in a raised spiral shape. Slope the soil gradually up in a coil from the outer to inner rings.

Plant moisture lovers like mint on the lower outer rings, and drought-tolerant varieties like lavender toward the drier, sunnier center. The spiral shape fits nicely even in corners.

Rectangular Herb Garden Plans

Now that you’re inspired, it’s time to start planning your perfect rectangular herb garden design. Here are some sample layouts that make excellent use of small square footage:

Mini Herb Garden Plan (3′ x 2′ bed)

This compact rectangular bed is ideal for a patio or kitchen doorstep. The small size takes advantage of every inch of space.

Back row: Dill, lemon balm, chives, parsley

Middle row: Oregano, thyme, sage, garlic chives

Front row: Chamomile, cilantro, basil, marjoram

City Apartment Balcony Herb Garden (5′ x 3′ box)

This narrow raised bed maximizes a slim balcony or urban fire escape. The tiered arrangement fits a variety of herbs in a vertical space.

Back trellis: Rosemary, mint, thyme, oregano

Middle row: Sage, lavender, fennel, summer savory

Front row: Chives, parsley, basil, dill

Suburban Cottage Garden (10′ x 4′ bed)

This spacious rectangular bed provides an abundant harvest for a family kitchen. The layout keeps tall herbs from shading shorter ones.

10′ Back row: Lavender, lovage, lemon verbena, dill, fennel

8′ Middle row: Thai basil, cilantro, sage, bay laurel, tarragon

6′ Front row: Chives, oregano, marjoram, thyme, parsley, chamomile

Mini Potager Garden (6′ x 6′ square)

Here herbs combine beautifully with flowers and vegetables in a French-inspired “potager” design. The square layout fits in a tiny courtyard.

Back row: Bronze fennel, dill, cosmos, zinnias, lemon verbena

Middle row: Sage, basil, parsley, thyme, lettuce, nasturtiums

Front row: Chives, oregano, violas, marigolds, cilantro

Conclusion

For urban dwellers and anyone gardening in small square footage, a rectangular herb garden offers an easy, orderly way to maximize space. The simple layout makes planting, tending and harvesting herbs a breeze.

With some planning to group herbs by sun and water needs, allow for mature size, and take advantage of vertical growing room, even the tiniest rectangle can provide abundant herbs for kitchen use. A rectangular design offers beautiful simplicity and productivity.