The Knot Garden

The hallmark of a knot garden is the interflow and knotting effect of the shapes; it is a place that one can walk around in a leisurely and intimate way (if large enough, or simply view), admiring the contrasting tones, tints and textures of carefully placed plants. I made a tiny one at RHS Chelsea Flower Show, a very long time ago that won a ‘Silver Gilt’ award! and a much larger one in an old walled garden in Suffolk (again a long time ago). This larger one was based on an original sixteenth-century design by Parkinson, a master herbalist, horticulturalists, surgeon and astrologer who lived in Covent Garden, London. In fact, the British Museum has many knot garden designs drawn by herbalists of Parkinsons time and these can be very inspirational.


The Parterre

In time the parterre replaced the knot garden historically. It was fashionable in France and was introduced to Britain. Designed to be viewed from a castle, raised terrace or other vantage points, it was a more sophisticated and elaborate development.  Spacious, formal and individual in concept, it differed from the knot garden by not following the flowing and continuous patterns of its predecessor.

Have any of you ever seen the Chateau De Villandry in the Loire, France? (below) I remember how much it ‘wowed’ me (many many decades ago) at age 14 and it was in part of why I became fascinated with vegetables and herbs. The plantings at the Chateau De Villandry are much simpler nowadays but still stunning and worth seeing.

Whether you can or wish to create a complex knot garden or parterre or not, growing herbs is of course hugely useful for eating and healing. Although formality need not always mean intricacy, making a knot garden or parterre requires a great deal of time. Many examples of parterres can be seen today,  such as The Queen Anne’s Garden at the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew. At the Palace of Hampton Court, London there is a lovely restored kitchen garden (approximately an 18th-century design). Ideas for yourself can be drawn from floor tiles, weaving patterns, plate designs, cartwheels or fans; indeed almost any shape can be made by repeating or halving the original theme, large or small.


The Plants Themselves

If you do visit the formal Queen Anne Garden at Kew Gardens you will also see side by side the medicinal garden crammed full of useful beauties all of which were grown in Britain before and during the 17th century. Let’s discuss a few of these.

Bay Tree

These make a good single focus anywhere in your design but watch out they are naturally vigorous and will need shaping and reducing over time. I use the young fresh leaves almost weekly in summer foods, amounts vary from lots to a pinch out of a single leaf! I quite frequently use it in winter as the leaves are evergreen which automatically renders it very useful.  Its Latin name Laurus nobilis heralds its noble and prestigious uses.  In fact, ancient Greeks and Romans crowned great and accomplished people with bay leaf crowns.

  • It can be used to treat issues of the liver, stomach and kidneys, coughs, colds, fever and diabetes.
  • It contains 81 compounds and a special compound called Eucalyptol (Kansas State University discovered this compound is effective in eliminating bugs and cockroaches!)

If you do not have a bay tree use the dried leaves; but beware, make sure they are freshly dried and olive green in colour.  Once they are brownie/green, their compounds are no longer effective.

  • As a tea, it is really useful for salmonella, candida and general upset stomach.
  • If you have achy limbs, try boiling the leaves and adding the ‘decoction’ to a bath where it’s essential oils and other components help to ease the muscles and joints.


Marigold (Calendula officanalis)

We pride ourselves on the beautiful quality of organic Marigold petals that go into our ‘Immuno Tea Blend’ which is a great ally for winter bugs and I urge you to consider growing your own for their broad-ranging uses. It’s a tough plant and can be still flowering in early November!
Marigold is an anti-viral, antibacterial and anti-fungal (excellent for Candida albicans).

  • So a really good broad-spectrum antimicrobial. (It especially also stimulates ‘phagocytosis) other than this it is useful and gentle detoxifier for the urinary and lymphatic system.
  • It is a potent liver and gallbladder herb all of which is important for helping to process toxins and to relieve the work of an already overstretched immune system.
  • Some of you may know how useful marigold is to help skin issues like chickenpox, acne, shingles and more used topically.
  • Finally, it Is a vitally useful gut inflammation her for anyone with ulcers, excess acid and colitis etc.
  • Much research has been down on marigold to include a focus on HIV and macular degeneration.

Caution Do not use with the toxic French marigold (Tagetes sp)

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris and other species)

Thyme possesses a highly prized biochemistry especially its phenols. Phenols are a very varied group of plant constituents and are often anti-inflammatory and antiseptic being produced by the plants themselves to protect against infection and feeding insects. Thyme is rich in phenols and it’s strongly fragrant ‘thymol’ is particularly is hugely antiseptic.  In fact so strong it is also used for H.Pylori, a bacterium often associated with stomach ulcers. It is also fantastic for chest infections like bronchitis, pleurisy, whooping cough, any cough in fact and also excellent for colds and flu. Put the leaves on your winter vegetables as in these more sluggish months it will help to maintain vitality and by doing so, help reduce the chance of catching colds, flu and other respiratory infections as it is also an all-around tonic.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

In winter rosemary it gives us warmth and rich flavours in hearty dishes whilst its bitterness offsets fats and rich foods and helps digestion. In summer it’s just a lovely zing for cold bean salads and other dishes needing a taste boost. In winter it will keep the cold out. You can make it into a herbal tea where it will help circulation and stimulate blood flow to every capillary in the body and especially the head. It also stimulates the mind, but not in an overstimulation sense as rosemary is known to reduce excess cortisol levels in just minutes, soothing stress. In which case drink the tea but also inhale some essential oil.

For chills, flu, and colds rosemary is an age-old ‘go-to’ that has somewhat been overlooked in modern times. It helps alleviate congested nasal and sinus passages, sore and scratchy throats whilst its amazing antibacterial compounds will adeptly fight infection. Rosemary’s ability to dispel both gram-positive and gram-negative strains of bacteria are famous which makes a ‘must’ plant in your garden. Equally its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant components help support any fever, chills and ‘unwell’ feelings. Its innate essential oils within its leaves will warm the body, improve circulation as I’ve said but this means it can also help the body flush toxins out by opening pores and releasing these whilst also reducing excess heat.

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

I like the medieval quote “why should a man die while sage grows in his garden”. Like Rosemary it is evergreen, coming in both purplish hues and of course sage green. The purple is best for medicinal use and both look lovely grouped together.  It is very useful for sore throats and drunk as a fresh or dried herb infusion it is both antiseptic and astringent. You can also put this infusion into a spritzer bottle and regularly spritz your throat (adding honey if you like) to ease the pain and reduce the inflammation.

  • Try honey, water, cider vinegar and sage, couldn’t be simpler!  Using a generous handful of chopped sage, low simmer for 10 minutes in 500mls of ¼ vinegar and rest water; add honey to taste.  Great for sore throats as the sage will tighten the loose infected mucous membranes of the throat and generally attack the bacteria and other microbes causing not only the sore throat but any other attendant upper respiratory infection.
  • Sage is also a traditional digestive aid (helping break down fats) aiding overall stomach health and food absorption, useful around richer foods.
  • Sage also helps enhance our memory. It seems that small is good, with a daily 2.5g of sage (dried or fresh) being optimum dose but not more.

Always New Ideas

I’ve just planted an Agnus Castus shrub in my garden. There are always new ideas, discoveries and pleasures to come and whether you choose and have the space for elaborate designs or not, the simple pleasure of a herb in a pot is always there.