Growing culinary herbs is a great way to get started with gardening. Most of the commonly used kitchen herbs are easy to grow. Plus, you can find plant starts and seeds at any home improvement or garden shop.
Moving beyond kitchen favorites to medicinal, tea, skincare, and livestock-related herbs in an all-purpose herb garden take more planning, skill, and garden space. Yet if you take time to carefully organize your plantings and select the right herbs for your needs, it’s not that much more difficult to grow a large herb garden.
If you are ready to scale up from kitchen herbs to an all-purpose herb garden, then read on for ideas to make planning and planting easier!
Organize the Plants you Require
The first trick to planning an all-purpose herb garden is to decide how to organize them and which herbs you need. There are several different ways to organize them. Consider the below options, and then decide on an option or even a combination that would work for you.
Organize By Purpose
You may want to plan your all-purpose herb garden based on your reasons for growing the herbs. For example, culinary herbs might go nearest to the garden gate for frequent harvesting.
– Medicinal Herbs
For medicinal herbs, you’ll want to harvest at peak potency to make infusions, tinctures, decoctions, powders, or more. So, you may want to put these in an easy to see location so you can keep track of their progress.
– Livestock Herbs
If you grow your all-purpose herb garden adjacent to livestock areas, then you can site your livestock herbs closest to their pastures. That way you can harvest and toss fresh herbs over the fence as needed.
Also, animals can self-harvest overgrowth through fencing. Mint family, vining, or herbs that propagate by runners will grow through the fence. Then your animals can munch that overgrowth at will.
– Tea Herbs
Consider allocating an extra-large area for your tea herbs since you’ll want to harvest lots of them at once to make blends. You may also want that area to be in a less conspicuous part of your garden since you’ll be harvesting heavily from those plants at times, making them look butchered for a bit.
Organize By Care Requirements
Another way to consider organizing your plantings is by care requirements. For example, perennials take longer to establish, then they require less care. Annuals require constant care and replanting to keep productive.
You may want to site your annuals close to your rain barrels and put your perennials on an irrigation system for long-term care. Or, you may want to put your perennials front-and-center for continuous beauty. Then you can put your continuously harvested annuals in a less obvious location.
Organize By Growth Habits
Mint family plants like peppermint, oregano, and lemon balm have a reputation of being aggressive spreaders. Plants like thyme can also be aggressive, but it takes a while before they really take off. Meanwhile, things like licorice, ashitaba, and lovage can be slower to start.
You may want to plant fast growers in one area so you can keep them in check. Then, you may want slow growers in a different area so you can keep them weeded and nurtured until they are settled in. Or, you may want to alternate fast growers with slow growers to keep areas looking full while slower plants develop.
Organiza By Aesthetics
Herbs make stunning landscape design plants too. You may want to organize them by their aesthetic qualities. Leaf or flower color, size, shape, bloom period, and other considerations might drive your herb organizational strategies.
Organize By Harvest Needs
If aesthetics or purpose for growing them aren’t your primary concerns, then you may want to go for harvest practicalities. For example, herbs you cut often might be closest to your house. Or, the herbs you harvest large quantities of might need to be near to wherever you do your preliminary processing such as hanging them to dry.
There are lots of different ways to organize an all-purpose herb garden. Yet, choosing one or two key organizing principles can make it easier to start the daunting task of putting your all-purpose herb garden plans on paper.
Pre-Planning your All-Purpose Herb Garden
Now that you have a sense of how you’ll group your plantings, you need to decide which herbs to grow. Before you make your wish list, make sure you know your climate and your soil type.
Your climate is fixed. So, it’s easiest to grow plants that are well-adapted to your conditions. However, if you really want to grow a few herbs that are slightly out of your climate range, you can.
You’ll need to do extra work to create microclimates using things like rocks, water features, sun orientation, or shade creation. You’ll also need to give plants extra protection during their at-risk periods, e.g. extreme heat or excessive cold.
Another option for finicky herbs not quite suited to your climate is a herb spiral. This would allow you to plant a heat-loving herb near a rock wall, where the absorbed heat would create an effective micro-climate.
Alternatively, planting a heat-sensitive plant on the cooler side of your spiral in the shade of another herb would create a cooler micro-climate.
You can also put herbs in pots. That way you can move them indoors if needed to keep them safe from inclement weather conditions.
Your soil type is much easier to change than your climate. You can amend with organic matter, install drainage, use raised beds and more. However, choosing herbs that like your existing soil type will cut down on the amount of work you have to do before planting.
Of course, you also need to know how much space you have and what your landscape conditions are. Slope, sun orientation, drainage, amenities like convenient water, and more will all impact your plant decisions.
For example, in a dry climate if your hose bibb is 100 feet from your garden area, then you may want to focus on drought-resistant herbs. If your area is partially shaded, then you’ll need to choose some shade-tolerant herbs. If you have a steep slope, then you need to alter your slope or choose herbs with deep, fibrous root systems.
Selecting Your Herbs
With all that pre-planning information in mind, it’s time to get down to the fun part of choosing herbs.
There are tons of easy to grow kitchen herbs available. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, mint, parsley, dill, fennel, epazote, cilantro, lovage, savory, basil, sage, and more are all delicious easy to grow choices.
Choose the kitchen herbs you are most likely to use on a daily or weekly basis. Or, grow the hard to find kitchen herbs that you can also harvest, dry, and store for later use.
When choosing medicinal herbs, it helps to have an understanding of how you will use them. For example, I have asthma. I grow licorice, mullein, and plantain to support my lung health.
Plus, my asthma makes me more prone to colds. So, I grow rosehips for their vitamin C content. I also grow echinacea and elderberry to boost my immune system.
If you have an herbalist you work with, you may want to ask them for recommendations on what to grow to keep your home medicine costs down. Or, you may want to study up on herbal medicine to make your own informed choices.
There are lots of herbs out there that can encourage positive health in your livestock too. Some herbs concentrate minerals such as comfrey and stinging nettle. Other herbs may assist with parasite load management such as birdsfoot trefoil, oregano, wormwood, chicory, mugwort, and tansy.
If you like bright orange egg yolks, feeding your chickens Mexican marigolds and paprika will help. Herbs like lavender and mint can be useful to manage aromas in bedding.
If you raise bees, they too are livestock and would appreciate you growing lots of fragrant, colorful, pollinator-friendly plants in your all-purpose herb garden.
Make sure you do some research before you select the right herbs for your livestock. Herbs that work for goats and chickens might be toxic for cows and sheep. The digestive system, regular diet, and other factors need to be considered when choosing herbs for livestock use.
Homesteaders spend a lot of time outdoors and our skin can take a beating. Homegrown herbs used in salves, soaps, and lotions can be both soothing and restorative.
Calendula is an easy to grow skin-friendly herb that also looks beautiful in the garden. Borage infusions make a refreshing face wash. Chamomile, red clover, nettle, witch hazel, and myrtle are also frequently used in skincare.
Many of the herbs grown for the previous purposes can also double as ingredients for your tea blends. However, if you want to supply tea for your whole year, you need to grow more than a plant or two.
It’s helpful to figure out your favorite base ingredients and grow lots of them. Then, you can mix and match with all your other herbs.
Tulsi or holy basil is an easy to grow caffeine-free tea leaf. Yaupon is an evergreen with some caffeine that works well for teas in zone 7 and above. Camellia sinensis – used to make as white, black, or green tea – is hardy in zone 8 and above.
New Jersey tea plant is another excellent caffeine-free alternative to add body and structure to your tea blends. Mint, chamomile, and nettle are key tea ingredients too. Stevia leaves make teas sweet without needing to add sugar.
Other Herb Uses
Those are just five big areas of herb use. But there are lots of other reasons to grow herbs.
You may want to grow them for their aromatics to use for aromatherapy. Or, maybe you need them for compost creation. Herbs like comfrey, nettle, borage, and dandelion make great soil amendments or compost teas.
Reality Check versus your Wish List
Once you have your wish list made, it’s time to figure out what you actually have room to grow. Write down the mature plant sizes for the varieties you are considering. Multiply them by the number of each plant you plan to grow.
Then, add those totals up and see if they fit the space you’ve allotted to the garden. If not, then you need to cut your list of quantities or maybe add a bit more.
Make sure you’ve left enough room for paths in your square footage. You may also want a seating area to enjoy the garden and, maybe, a water feature.
Also check around for plant or seed distributors and prices. Culinary herbs are cheap and plentiful. But some of the more exotic herbs may need to come from specialty sellers.
Put Your All-purpose Herb Garden on Paper First
Once you get your herb list and count right for your square footage, then it’s time to lay it out on paper. Try to imagine how your garden will look when plants are fully grown. Maybe even make a collage with plant images so you can see if your plan is harmonious.
Then, I encourage you to wait a few weeks after making your plan before you break ground. There are always things we think of later that end up altering the final design.
You may also want to run it by another gardener to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
In addition, read through our excellent collection of growing guides for herbs which you can use to ensure you have all the information you need to plant each herb and have a successful harvest.
Ready, Set, Execute!
With the planning done, it’s to get to work.
- Order your plants and seeds
- Prepare your soil for planting
- Lay paths
- Add any decorative items
- Install irrigation
- …and do whatever else your plan requires.
Now, you are almost done with your all-purpose herb garden!
The next steps are to take good care of your new plants, harvest when ready, and use them for good health and homestead happiness. Luckily, we have tons more great reference materials on this site to help you learn how to do all that!