Parterres are ornamental flower, herb or vegetable beds edged by low, tightly clipped evergreen hedges. This herb parterre is ideal outside a kitchen window.
Pinch out the growing tips of the edging plants to produce a compact, bushy hedge. Once established, they can be trimmed three times during the summer to keep them tidy.
Clear the site of weeds and then dig in plenty of compost and crushed stone to improve the drainage of the soil. Many herbs originate from Mediterranean-type climates and therefore thrive in such well-drained, dry conditions.
When the soil is dry and workable, rake the soil level and remove any large stones or roots of previous plants that might still be in the soil. The best tool for doing this job is a large-headed, stainless steel landscape rake.
Tread over the freshly cultivated soil in both directions to firm it and remove any air pockets. Keep your feet close together and firmly press your heels down into the ground. Gently rake over the soil again afterward.
Place landscape fabric over the area to be planted. Dig the edges of the material into the soil to help hold it in place. The fabric will reduce the amount of watering and weeding needed later in the year.
Measure and mark out the pattern of the hedging with chalk to draw on the landscape fabric and pegs. Keep the pattern simple when designing for a small space, since too much intricacy will look messy and is hard to maintain.
With a sharp knife, cut slits into the landscape fabric approximately 8 inches apart where the hedging plants are to go. Using a trowel or just your fingers, make planting holes in the soil and firm in the hedging plants.
Work around the pattern until all the hedging is planted. The shrubs in this pattern are box (Buxus sempervirens), but other suitable plants include Lavandula angustifolia and Teucrium x lucidrys.
Arrange the herbs in their pots until you are happy with the design. Larger plants, like this bay tree in a terracotta pot, can be used to create a focal point. Cut the fabric and plant each herb carefully, as in Step 6.
Carefully check over the herbs and prune out dead growth or shoots and branches that may have been damaged during planting. Brush away any soil or leaves that have fallen onto the fabric and water all the plants in well.
Place slate chippings over the surface of the fabric. This gives the parterre an attractive finish and hides the cuts that were made for planting. Other mulching materials can be used instead of slate, such as gravel.
Excerpted from Simple Steps: Herbs
©Dorling Kindersley Limited 2009