A parterre is a pattern of boxwood or similar hedge plants, with the areas between filled with other plants. Traditionally, the hedging would be the permanent plants, and the infill made up of annuals and vegetables.
When to Start: Spring
At Its Best: Summer
Time to Complete: 4 hours for the small parterre, measuring 3 ft. x 4 ft., above
First, decide on the design you want and sketch it on paper — this parterre is a simple cross pattern. Then clear the area of grass and weeds, and add organic matter, such as garden compost, to improve the soil's structure. Silver-leaved herbs like well-drained soil, so if yours is heavy, add plenty of organic matter. Level the area carefully with a rake.
The entire area should be covered in a good quality landscape fabric to suppress weeds and keep moisture in. Pin down the edges securely or slide them under the existing turf.
Use a tape measure and chalk to mark out your pattern. Space the hedging plants at 8-inch intervals; insert short stakes to mark their positions. The plants will quickly spread to form a dense hedge.
With a sharp knife, cut a cross in the landscape fabric at each planting point. Make small planting holes. Insert the boxwoods and firm them in. Then fold the landscape fabric back around the stem of the plants.
Place your selected herbs, while still in their pots, in the gaps between the hedging plants, and arrange them until they look right. Put the bay tree in its terra-cotta pot at the center of your parterre to create a focal point.
Plant the herbs, water them and cover the whole parterre in a layer of gravel. This will hide the landscape fabric and further help seal in moisture. Other mulching materials can be used, such as slate chippings. Tip: Allow the boxwoods to grow a little taller than their required height, but nip off the tips of the side shoots to encourage bushy growth. When the plants are tall enough, set a line of string at the right height and clip along the hedge with shears (Image 2).
Excerpted from How to Grow Practically Everything
© Dorling Kindersley Limited 2010