A kitchen garden is integral to the landscape, often using repetition and geometric shapes to add to the year around appeal. Once a crop has been harvested, another is sown in its place. It can also use perennial plants such as fruit trees and bushes. It is less a “vegetable garden” and more an outdoor living space. It relies on a philosophy of living in harmony with nature. It is also sometimes called a potager garden.
Here are some design elements to consider when planning a beautiful and productive kitchen garden.
- Consider technicalities, shade and sun. Kitchen gardens and their crops do best with at least 6 full hours of sun, however, some crops such as lettuce and spinach can do quite well with less light.
- The kitchen / garden relationship is so important. Accessibility and nearness can mean the difference between adding a few sprigs of herbs to your meal or not bothering. Remember the kitchen garden is an extension of sorts to the home. This means windows and doors can bring the views of the garden inside. This makes it all the more important to ensure the kitchen garden is part of an overall landscape design.
- A birds eye view can show symmetry, garden plot placement, repetition, and detail, resulting in a living and ever changing art. If you have a second floor, look out to the kitchen garden to assess scale.
- Laying out groups and blocks of plants helps with rotation and has more visual impact. Think of the impact of groups and colors versus long, skinny rows of typical American vegetable gardens. Modular beds with paths can be bold, orderly, strong, powerful. The paths should be designed to accommodate wheelbarrows.
- Repetition in color, shape, form, materials unifies the design and adds a sense of clarity and reduces a spotty, chaotic look and feel. This can be shown as repeated edging throughout, using the same ground cover material, and echoing colors found in other parts of the landscape and details of the home. This allows for complementary instead of a landscape versus vegetable garden feeling.
- Color opposites can add excitement and energy. Red and green, orange and blue and violet and yellow are opposite each other on the color wheel. By carefully placing some of the plants in a manner that uses this design principle, you can add instant drama. Rainbow swiss chard stems are red, green and yellow. Bulls blood beets have the most vibrant burgundy leaves imaginable. Cabbage can be found in shades of green, red and purple, while sage plants are soft grey, silver or multi colored. Basil can be green, or purple, or red. Lettuces can be found in shades of creamy green to bold red.
- Vertical structures for vines punctuate the flat, level areas and add growing space to the garden. Willow branches or bamboo poles can be lashed together to form teepees for beans and peas to climb up. Obelisks and pyramids can also be used for vining crops such as squash or cucumbers that need sturdy structures and are art pieces with a defined purpose. They can also add visual interest during winter.
- Winter interest can be found in a well thought out kitchen garden design. Seed heads provide food for birds, weather proof containers can hold evergreen boughs mixed with red twig dogwood branches.
- Think of foliage and its texture. Kale has crinkly leaves, while broccoli and cabbage have a round appearance. A lacy texture is found in bronze fennel, fern like fronds of asparagus and the spikiness of garlic scapes all contribute to the look of the garden.
- Plant shapes can be vertical such as garlic, onions, leeks and climbers like beans and peas. Horizontal plant forms are found in nasturtiums, lavender, thyme and parsley. By varying the forms a more interesting garden emerges.
- Edible walls can be formed by using asparagus, raspberries, blueberries, elderberries and currants. Keep in mind all of these are perennial, and that they should be placed in such a manner they do not block the sun from other plants.
- Edible flowers are entrancing, beautiful and delicious as well. These include nasturtiums, pansies, roses, violas, basil blossoms, lavender buds and blooms, lemon balm, mints, chives, borage, calendula, daylily and squash blossoms.
For online inspiration and garden seeds and plants perfect for your kitchen garden, please see these sources.
Baker Creek Heirloom seeds, http://www.rareseeds.com.
Cooks Garden, http://www.cooksgarden.com.
John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds, http://www.kitchengardenseeds.com.