Why plant your veggie garden in long, boring, straight rows again this year? Get a little “knotty” and have fun with it!

Knot garden design may be as old as the hills, but its geometric patterns and romantic allure make this style a great inspiration for today’s home gardener. (And if our distant ancestors had access to all the vibrant plants we do today, I’m pretty sure their plantings would’ve been a lot jazzier!) Let’s re-explore this great design concept using today’s plant palette – with all its color and beauty. The patterns and possibilities are truly endless!

The concept behind knot garden design is simple: Create interesting shapes and patterns using plants. One of the wonderful things about knot gardens is you can use just about any kind of plant in them: annuals, vegetables, herbs, perennials, grasses, shrubs and even small trees! If you’re thinking of planting a vegetable garden this year, why not give it a whole new twist and add some annuals and perennials for more color and impact? Think silvery cabbages, feathery dill, colored chard, dark opal basil and purple coneflowers as bedding partners laid out in a swirling or geometric pattern. Or grow your tomatoes in nontraditional cages like French garden tuteurs fashioned from rustic twigs and twine – maybe throw in a morning glory or two as centerpieces. Chances are you’ll wind up planting the most memorable kitchen garden that’s ever graced your yard (or neighborhood)!

The key to any good knot garden design is to figure it out on paper before you ever dig a hole in the ground. Measure your plot, break it down into a grid pattern, and only select plants that work within the space you allot. The most graceful designs are built around a centerpiece of some kind that the rest of the garden radiates around. To make things easier for you, I’ve created a few great patterns that can work in just about any yard – as long as you’ve got the space and the will to try something new!

Like the Dutch? Consider my Windmill Knot Garden design. As you might guess, when viewed from a balcony or second-story window, this pattern resembles a beautiful windmill. Laid out for an area that’s 16- by 16-foot square, it’s drawn in ¼-inch scale (which means that 1-foot in your garden equals ¼ inch on your paper). Consider using ‘Helmond Pillar’ barberry, germander (Teucrium chamaedrys), Egyptian onion, silvery cabbage and ‘Chocolate Ruffles’ heuchera. (This particular pattern/combination includes greens, pinks, purples and silver, but you can create your own color scheme, of course!) You can add some low-growing annuals or vegetables between the “windmill blades” for even more planting space in this design. Just let your imagination flow!

Windmill Knot Garden

An interesting mix of vegetables, herbs, perennials and shrubs can be laid out to create this eye-catching windmill pattern.

  1. ‘Helmond Pillar’ barberry (Photo courtesy of Park Seed)
  2. Germander (Photo courtesy of Mountain Valley Growers)
  3. Silvery cabbage (Photo by Gerald L. Klingaman)
  4. Egyptian onion (Photo courtesy of Mountain Valley Growers)
  5. Heuchera ‘Chocolate Ruffles’ (Photo courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.)

If you like heucheras, consider my Heuchera Knot Garden. This design is for an 8-foot-square space (also drawn in ¼-inch scale) and is a relatively small planting. Heucheras make a great alternative evergreen selection. They stay rather small and intact without all that hard shearing – and “low maintenance” is always a welcome concept! Think of the endless color combinations you can create with these versatile beauties, which are available in almost any leaf color, from white to black. With about 130 different heucheras to pick from (last time I counted), you’re guaranteed to come up with a gorgeous planting!

Heuchera Knot Garden

No matter what angle you look at the Heuchera Knot Garden from, it’ll always appear balanced and symmetrical.

  1. Heuchera ‘Obsidian’ (Photo courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.)
  2. Heuchera ‘Silver Scrolls’ (Photo by James H. Schutte)

Love the romantic rose windows of old cathedrals? Think about re-creating the feel in your own back yard with my Rose Window Garden pattern. This design is for a circular area measuring 13½ feet across (drawn in ¼-inch scale). When I created this garden pattern, I based it on the beauty of burgundy and salmon tones working together, with some silvery blue thrown in for a foil. Some good plants for the space include ‘Kaleidoscope’ abelia, and ‘Lime Ricky’ and ‘Georgia Peach’ heucheras, ‘Elijah Blue’ blue fescue and ‘Salmon Velvet’ petunia. But again, don’t be afraid to try your own color scheme! (Maybe try a tall, columnar shrub in the center with grasses, perennials and annuals to complete a circular pattern, or perhaps some greens with silver and purple, or yellows and pinks with burgundy.)

Rose Window Knot Garden

Measuring 13½ feet in diameter, this Rose Window design is a great way to create a uniquely colorful knot garden.

  1. Heuchera ‘Lime Ricky’ (Photo courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.)
  2. Abelia ‘Kaliedoscope’ – spring color (Photo courtesy of Plant Haven)
  3. Petunia ‘Salmon Velvet’ (Photo courtesy of Thompson & Morgan, Ltd.)
  4. Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’ (Photo courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.)
  5. Festuca ‘Elijah Blue’ (Photo courtesy of Proven Winners)

And let’s not forget the centerpieces of these wonderful designs! There are lots of options for the center of your knot garden. Choose whatever suits your fancy, whether it’s a plant, statue, birdbath, fountain or a night-lit water feature. Whatever you choose, just make sure you love it – it’ll really become the focal point of your garden.

If you don’t have enough space for a large knot garden, try working in little patterns elsewhere in your yard. Consider lining the walk to your front porch with interlocking plantings. Create one completely out of annuals and herbs, using a new pattern every year to spice up your world with variety. Frame a favorite small tree, like a Japanese maple or hydrangea tree, with a simple diamond of germander intersecting with an outer square border of ‘Rozanne’ geranium.

Truly, the sky is absolutely the limit as to what you can put together. So I invite you to be as knotty as you please without guilt or punishment! Today’s plants offer so many amazing colors, textures and blooms, that it’s easy to create some lovely settings outside your very own windows. (Now I ask you: What’s knot to love?!)