A parterre is a pattern of box or other evergreen hedging, with the areas in between filled with other plants. Traditionally, the hedging would be the permanent structure, and the infill made up of temporary plants, such as bedding or vegetables. However, they also make beautiful herb beds.
When to start: Spring.
At their best: Summer.
Time to complete: 4 hours for the small parterre, measuring 3ft (1m) x 4ft (1.2m).
You will need: Small box plants, Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’, bay tree – Laurus nobilis, shrubby herbs such as rosemary, lavender, curry plant, cotton lavender, and thyme —3 plants per segment. Spade, grit, organic matter, rake, landscape fabric, measuring tape, chalk, short stakes or pegs, sharp knife, slate chippings.
Prepare the soil
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 well-rotted manure or garden compost, to improve the soil’s structure. Silver-leaved herbs like well-drained soil, so if yours is heavy, add plenty of grit to help water drain away. Level the area carefully with a rake.
Lay and secure landscape fabric
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.
Mark out a hedging plan
Use a tape measure and chalk to mark out your pattern. Space the hedging plants at 8in (20cm) 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 box plants and firm them in. Then fold the landscape fabric back around the stem of the plants.
Arrange herbs for the final design
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 terracotta pot at the center of your parterre to create a focal point.
Apply a layer of slate chippings
Plant the herbs, water them, and then cover the whole parterre in a layer of slate chippings. This will hide the landscape fabric and further help seal in moisture. Other mulching materials can be used, such as gravel.
Tips: Encourage bushy growth
Allow the box plants 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.