Spiral Herb Garden Project

Photo contributed by Billy Smith

Yesterday was the ground breaking on a new community garden space in my home town. The new Community Garden is hosted on property belonging to a local church (Bethel A Baptist) and was "kickstarted" by the City of Brevard, NC with both manpower and materials. The brick pavers used in this particular project were contributed by our friends at New Leaf Garden Market. Other volunteers (a really tough squad...worked hard all morning!) arrived from local church Destiny Christian Fellowship.

Other projects were accomplished besides the one I'm featuring in this post, but I've decided to break all of it up, or you'd have to read way too much at one time. Besides, I have too many good pictures from the event!

Me with spray paint. Always a dangerous combination.

So let's start at the beginning. An herb garden, unlike a vegetable garden, requires less built-in "protection" from herbivores, because most of them (the herbivores) don't like the smell or taste of these aromatically enhanced culinary delights. So in starting this project, the first step is only to prevent grass from growing into your garden. As usual, we avoided using RoundUp or any other chemical to kill off the grass, and did not waste any energy digging up the sod, either. A layer of cardboard from heavy-duty boxes, secured with sod staples, does the trick.

Since I was serving as the coordinator of activities, I had to delegate the building of the structure to others. This was hard for me, because this is EXACTLY the kind of project I love. I think you'll agree, however, that they did a great job!

The heart of the spiral "snail" team.

After I had secured the cardboard, I painted a path for the bricks to follow. Because we were fortunate to have received a donation of many, many brick pavers, I planned for this to be a "double-wall" structure that could put up with kids and other beings. Bears, not so much. But for casual use, it should hold up well. The advantage of a double wall construction, when using brick, is that you can turn the brick so that it covers both rows of the course, essentially tying the two courses of brick together through gravity and friction. You would not do this without mortar in construction of a home or other building, of course. But for a garden structure, this really will give you quite a bit of durability--and flexibility. You can always go back and make changes by unstacking your brick, if need be, and the brick is also free to move just a bit as the ground settles. In a landscape dominated by water and clay, flexibility is a very good thing.

I was hoping for 18" in height--Surpassed!

In building one of these, you need to start in the center and work your way out. The center of this spiral will eventually be dominated by a rosemary shrub. Right now, the rosemary looks anything but dominant, but it should gain size rapidly (see top photo). Lavender would also be a good choice for the center. Both of these shrubby herbs require well-drained soil, and being large in size, will still be easy to harvest from despite being "a reach" to get to from the outside boundary of the spiral. The spiral format makes it easy to terrace the structure. Once the first couple layers of brick are down, you just keep adding (starting from the middle and stepping down as you wish) until you run out of pavers. In the photo at left, between our gentleman with the hairy chest and our lady in blue, the height changes four times. This is what I mean when I say "stepping down."

Sod, turned upside down, is the first layer of soil we used.

Once the bricks are all placed to your satisfaction, you will need to add soil. We started ours with sod leftover from holes dug for plantings in the rest of the garden. Turn the grass side down when you place these chunks into the spiral. After this, because we had a lot of it, we used some yard-waste mulch ground by the city. This layer was approximately six inches deep for most of the spiral. Finally, a good quality topsoil was added.

One advantage of a masonry herb garden like this one is that the masonry will absorb heat from the sun during the growing season and help your herbs get off to a really good start in the spring. Be sure your garden will benefit from some southern exposure in the site you select before you begin.

Small child, wrapped up in a brick boa. :)

There are dangers to projects like these. Blood blisters on skin pinched between pavers are common. Also, when breaking bricks to make smaller chunks to ease your way around corners (small chunks clearly visible on top course of brick in picture above), pieces of brick could come in contact with your face--wear protective eye gear. Finally, there is the danger of small children being swallowed by the labyrinth. Be careful not to build the maze too deep!

Tools and materials used in this project: cardboard, spray paint, sod staples (longer and heavier gauge than "landscape" staples sold at big box stores), rubber mallet (for driving in staples), utility knife (for cutting cardboard), safety goggles, lots o' brick pavers, soil. You will get your best results by first pulling any tape off of the cardboard.

Finishing touches: herbs and water pulled from the creek!

Spiral gardens were likely developed in response to the need for efficient use of garden space. In small plots, a spiral allows for vertical use of space, allowing you to crowd more plants into fewer square feet of garden. Raised beds always make harvest easier, so especially for older individuals that are feeling less flexible than they used to, this is a great project/gift to do with your family. Vertical gardening is also a great solution for providing "well-drained soil" when your landscape might not have a lot of said amenity. There's no reason you have to plant herbs in your spiral--you could also plant annuals or perennials--hmmm... maybe you need more than one!

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