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Knot Gardens

Knot gardens are making a comeback, and you can have one too--in a container.

Knot gardens, the marvels of 14th- and 15th-century Europe, are making a comeback.

Figure A

A knot garden is essentially low-clipped hedges planted and trimmed to create a knotted- cord effect, where the different plant materials come in and out from underneath each other and give you that look of a knotted cord. There's the open style (figure A), where bare soil can be seen within the figures.

Figure B

The closed style (figure B) is where the design is completely filled with plants.

"The No. 1 thing that takes the most time however is the clipping of the hedges," says Alex Fernandez, manager of Filoli Gardens in Woodside, Calif. "Since it is a very formal garden with a lot of different plant material, you have to really delineate your lines and plant material. You have to be really meticulous because it's important--especially in an open knot garden--to keep that area free of weeds so the plants really show off."

If attempting a knot garden at home seems daunting, just start a small container knot garden.

  • First, determine your location. Sun or shade will determine which plants you're going to be using.

  • Figure C

  • Visualize your design and put it down on paper (figure C. This box is going to be a fairly simple design with squares, diamonds and some circular patterns. In this case, Alex has chosen germander for the circles, while the darker green lines will be lime thyme intertwined with silver thyme (the gray lines). Many herbs are great for knot gardens because they can take hard pruning.

  • Figure D

  • Mark where the plants will go with sticks (figure D). This helps keep straight lines straight and corners that line up perfectly.

  • Using the smallest plants you can find at the nursery and tease the roots apart. A lot of plants will go into this container, so keeping each root ball compact is crucial.

  • Figure E

  • Plants that form lines can be pruned before planting. To make sure the lime thyme forms straight lines, Alex uses a stake and a spoon to dig a trench (figure E).

  • Leave a small space at intersections. Alex teases, trims and plants till the diamond is formed. At one spot, the silver thyme will come over the lime thyme and in another, it will grow under the lime thyme.

  • After planting is finished, do the final trimming so you get good definition between the different thymes.

  • The finished garden, ready to grow.

  • In about three weeks, the design will start to pop. Continue pruning once a week till the growth rate slows down at season's end—and of course, water, fertilize and mulch as necessary.

  • A great container knot garden is a work of gardening art.

    It's a commitment of time and energy, but this is surely a garden you'll fall in love with. Look for knot garden design inspiration in patterns around you--a garden gate, a favorite tablecloth, your family’s coat of arms. What better place to unleash those knotty ideas than the garden!


    • Alex Fernandez
      Garden Manager
      Filoli Center
      86 Canada Rd.
      Woodside, CA 94062
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