how to build a herb spiral

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Many people seem to be interested in herb spirals, and rightly so if done properly they need little maintenance and can keep you in herbs all year round. For me they encompass all manner of permaculture principles from how close to house you can get it to including a a small pond so frogs can do some of the slug hunting for you.

Basically the idea behind them is to get as many different herbs as possible in a confined area. The spiral and the subsequent hight differences mean that you create a number of different environmental conditions which normally would not be possible in a small space. The small area also means that they are ideal for a small garden and harvesting and watering is easy.

How it works is that you have a spiral bed in which to plant, this is held together with a structure of rock, brick or anything really that can absorb the heat of the sun through the day which in turn heats the soil. The top of the spiral gets more sun and has significanly more drainage than the lower parts, which informs your choice of planting. This means that you are able have thyme gowing almost next to mint or ramsons. The bottom of the spiral often incorporates a small pond allowing frogs and toads to breed and creating a wetter moist environment.

To build your spiral you first need to select a site, about 2m across, this ideally wants to be close to the kitcken but if this means that you have to site it in the shade then you will have to settle for a longer walk. This is at the heart of permaculture principles the siting of your spiral will depend on finding an area which recieves enough sun light to keep mediteranian herbs happy and is not so far away from the house that does not get any use. If you have to pass the veg patch and a green house before you get to it then there will be so many distractions that you will have forgot what you went out there for, or is that just me?

When you have found an ideal compromise between the two measure your circle by estimating the middle and sticking a stick in with a piece of string 1m in length attached to it. This will give you the arc of the circle, use a knife or something which makes a mark to mark this out. There is no reason for it being exactly round but I like it that way, you may just want to do it by eye. Around the outer circle lay a thick layer of cardboard with all the plastic removed, or newspaper, this simply stops weeds growing up through the rocks. Try and face the end of the spiral towards north so as to improve the efficiency, this will make sure that the microclimates you are trying to create are in an ideal situation. However with mine the end does not face north but is slightly in the shade more of the time, like I have said before it will all depend on your site.

Now is the fun part get your rock or what ever you can lay your hands upon, mine is made from rocks and bricks as I did not have enough of either. Start by laying out the shape of the spiral on the ground this will be your foundation. A tip here is to keep the better more attractive rocks for the top, it’s permaculture but it still can be pretty. The rocks around the edge need be only one deep, it’s the middle that you need height. Try and aim for about one meter but again this is not a rule.

As the wall gets higher start to infill with gravel this is for drainage but will also stop a collapse as it gets higher. The type of gravel is up to you use what you have to hand rather than buying something specific. Remember to leave enough space for compost and top soil. You can then treat it as a raised bed. The top of mine has a little more gravel mixed in with the compost to aid drainage. Traditionalists will have you believe that the spiral should go clockwise in the northern hemisphere and anti-clockwise in the south, you can make up your own minds.

Finally the end of the spiral can just be capped with rocks or if you decide for a pond try to make it level with the soil, no lip and have something that creatures can crawl in and out of. Think of it as more of a wet damp area than a conventional pond.

When it’s finished, water it well and allow it to settle. Then you can start to plant it up, the choice of herbs is up to you just bare in mind that the ones which require more drainage go at the top while ones which prefer wetter conditions go at the bottom. One thing to remember is bare in mind the final hight of the herb to be planted as this will effect what can be planted next to it due to the shade it will cast. I would say to leave out things like bay as it grows large and could take over but use common sence. Like with veg growing there is no point filling it with rare and beautiful herbs that you never use, think of what you like and use then find a place for it.

They make an attractive addition to the garden as well as being very productive.

Please feel free to contact me for further information

43 thoughts on “how to build a herb spiral

  1. Andrew Graham says:

    Really like tis idea.Was thinking of using glass bottles rather than stones/bricks.Do you think this will work.

  2. dibnah says:

    Sorry your comment had gone in the spam folder for some reason, and I’ve only just found it. Yes it’s quite possible to use glass bottles, like I say anything will do. I would suggest filling the bottles with eath first though, it will make them less likely to break and tranfer the heat better.

  3. Ivor Scott says:

    I saw your herb spiral at downsizer.net. I have built a couple,one for my garden and one at a feng shui demonstration plot at Gardening Scotland exhibition 2004. Both used about 1.5 tonne of stone to raise up the height with enough soil (just) to sustain planting. I just wanted to see if I could build one that looked more like a dry stone wall but still left room for plants and it seems to work.

  4. dibnah says:

    If you can get hold of that material locally, thats great, I bet they look good. I have always wanted to use stone and make a double one, like a large figure of eight.

    Was it a permaculture exhibition?

  5. Antibush says:

    Bush and the Republicans were not protecting us on 9-11, and we aren’t a lot safer now. We may be more afraid due to george bush, but are we safer? Being fearful does not necessarily make one safer. Fear can cause people to hide and cower. What do you think? How does that work in a democracy again? How does being more threatening make us more likeable?Isn’t the country with
    the most weapons the biggest threat to the rest of the world? When one country is the biggest threat to the rest of the world, isn’t that likely to be the most hated country?
    If ever there was ever a time in our nation’s history that called for a change, this is it!
    The more people that the government puts in jails, the safer we are told to think we are. The real terrorists are wherever they are, but they aren’t living in a country with bars on the windows. We are.

    • Yesenia Ornelas says:

      It is people like you that needs to read our history. Yes, we have changed but it is the democratic ways that has gotten us here in the first place, We need to go back to the essentials to keep this great nation under god with liberty and justes for all, the great land of opportunity if you are willing to work for it and not just waiting for big govertment to run youre life. No one could predic 9-11 but I still remember when President Bush was in that class room recieving the news off the attacks, he was cool calm and collected, but not afraid to act or defend our country. All those innocent people; there is no excuse. I was proud to know that my president; our leader was willing to defend us. The terrorist came to our home and killed many, our president acted on it, just like I would if some one where to come and hurt my family I would not just hide and cower. I would pull my gun, point and shoot. You see its better here in Texas where the good guys have guns not just the criminals!

    • Yesenia Ornelas says:

      No name I see ( antibush) who is the cower?

  6. rjlight says:

    Just found your website–I had just written about community and was tag surfing. I can’t wait to have some land to try this out! so neat!

  7. dibnah says:

    The great thing about it is that you need so little space and for me if you can’t self sufficient in vegatables why not be in herbs it’s much easyer.

  8. [...] Edited to add: Of course, the next important question to resolve is: where do I put my herb spiral? [...]

  9. ishtar says:

    Score one more for lessening our dependence on foriegn herbs!

  10. [...] first is from Welcome To Voluntary Simplicity with How To Build A Herb Spiral: Many people seem to be interested in herb spirals, and rightly so if done properly they need [...]

  11. CrownPC says:

    I plan on sharing this with our gardening group. It sounds very intriuging, and many of our members are of limited space due to local suburban living conditions. I have been thinking of maybe adding this to my own garden, since my yard is a Certified Wildlife Habitat, that is in desperate need of more water features for the wildlife. Great job, and love the idea. Can’t wait to get started, and am thinking of something built of wood and liner materials, to create a formal area. Thanks for sharing.

    Dave – 7ValleyPlantcycle.com

  12. Morgan says:

    Love this! Thank you for such a concise description and excellent illustration!

    • Lisa says:

      This illustration can be found in the book “Introduction to Permaculture” by Bill Mollison. I’m reading it now as part of my Permaculture Design Course and I keep seeing his drawings on other people’s websites!

  13. Cheryl says:

    Thank you for the insight. I am begining my spiral today and my daughter will be constructing one ather new home as well. We look forward to many years of flavorful enjoyment . Thanks once again.

  14. dibnah says:

    I’m glad to hear it, you should post some pictures.

  15. Mark Spiegel says:

    Excellent…Thank you!

  16. peettreet says:

    How wide do I want my spiraling bed?

  17. William says:

    This is one of the better herb spiral articles/posts I’ve read to date. Thanks very much.

    I’m putting one in on my allotment (and it just so happens I’ve got a load of gravel to sieve out of the soil where there used to be a path so that will be going into the spiral… I was wondering what to do with it all!).

    I have been looking for something that went further than “here’s how to build it, and here’s a photograph if it a couple of months later and full of healthy plants”. The bits about which way to point the end, making a pond type area at the bottom and a planting plan are just the kind of detail I’ve been looking for.

    Cheers!

  18. dibnah says:

    Thanks for alll the great replies. I’ve been quite again for a while, have move again for different reasons. Back to the city not as much space but cheaper and the car only comes out at weekends. Hope I’ll start blogging again soon.

  19. Stacie Martin says:

    Love the blog. I am incorporating an herb spiral in the center of my mandala garden. I’m only half way done with the entire project (mandala and spiral) but I can already see that the finished product will be magnificent…functional yet beautiful. I used broken up concrete slabs and pieces that were recycled from a friend’s patio. From the side the stacked concrete looks like stone, but it was free! Great for the environment and my pocketbook. Just a suggestion.

  20. [...] look into herb spirals. They are a little complicated to set up, but if designed correctly, are very easy to [...]

  21. [...] link to directions for how to build an herb spiral are here at The Kale Yard. Share [...]

  22. I was wondering if you can build with wood beams, they have cut down the woods here just outside our house?
    greetings Vimal

  23. dibnah says:

    I’m sure that would work fine, anything to keep the soil in place.

  24. Thanks for sharing, we’ve linked you on our blog:)

  25. deb papa says:

    It’s taken me a whole two months to build mine. Finally planting it tonight!

  26. [...] Har du lyst til at se en urtespiral i virkeligheden, kan du lægge vejen forbi Byhaven 2200 på Nørrebro eller Prags Have på Amager (se kort). Hvis du har lyst til at bygge din egen, så hold øje med siden her. Vi arbejder på at få en af byens gartnere til at give en trin for trin vejledning. Indtil da må du nøjes med en engelsk vejledning, som kan læses her. [...]

  27. Jill says:

    Took my husband and I two days to build and plant. Looks beautiful. Thanks!

  28. Gay says:

    I was suggested this web site by means of my cousin. I’m not sure whether this put up is written by means of him as no one else realize such precise approximately my difficulty. You’re incredible! Thank you!

  29. […] idea I’ve been playing around with is creating an herb spiral on a piece of empty ground where an old car sat for about a year. This ground is unsuitable to grow […]

  30. […] feature is from the Micro Gardener blog! You gotta check out their tutorial on how to build a herbal spiral. Way cool! If building one of these ends up being easy enough I may just build 3 or 4 of them. […]

  31. […] most fun part of it all for me was starting to build an herb spiral. I’d seen one before in the garden of a friend of Mas’s, and when he explained the […]

  32. Joao says:

    well… I did one … in a forest scale… but I am having tropuble finding similar work at this scale to share ideas… anyone? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lzjT1UcJvM

  33. […] ubiquitous installment at the permaculture farm, so when we came to work on a property in Panama, building a spiral as near to the kitchen as possible was a top priority. Not only would it supply us with fresh and […]

  34. […] how to build a herb spiral | The Kale Yard. […]

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