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Designing a Kitchen Garden

This is a traditional kitchen garden,
with vegetables neatly lined up in
rows. Although it is autumn, there
will be plenty of vegetables in
season over the next few months. 

There are several factors to consider when planning the overall design of a kitchen garden. Many of these relate 
to more specific issues and are dealt with later in more detail but are mentioned here in a general context.

What do you want?

The first priority is to work out what you want. Do you want a productive garden that will provide food for a large family or for selling or giving away? If so, you will probably be planting varieties of vegetables in bulk, which reduces the possibility of using intricate patterns. If, however, you are thinking in terms of a decorative feature, with the vegetable crops as a secondary consideration, you are going to need a different approach to laying out the kitchen garden. What do you want 
to include? Are you hoping to grow fruit and herbs as well as vegetables? This kind of decision will influence how much space you need and how you use it.

Do you want a greenhouse? If so, is it going to be within your kitchen 
garden or will it be tucked away, out of sight in a corner of the garden? What are you going to do with items such as sheds, cold frames and compost bins? Someone with a working kitchen garden is likely to position these where they are convenient.  If you want a decorative kitchen garden, you may well 
consider that these structures are eyesores and better located in a separate area, perhaps screened by a hedge.

This is a highly decorative kitchen
garden, in which a 
selection of
flowering plants grows among the
vegetables. 

How much time?

If you are going to do it properly, a kitchen garden takes up a tremendous amount of time. If you have help in the garden this may not be a problem, but if you do it all yourself, at weekends for example, you may find that time runs short during a critical period if there are two wet weekends followed by one when you are away 
from home. In other words, design the garden to suit the amount of time available. A large kitchen garden that has been neglected is a sad sight.

How much space?

It may not be a question of deciding how much space you want to devote to vegetables; this may already be decided by the amount of space actually available. Do not try and squeeze too much into a small space. Remember that there may be a call on the space for other purposes – children playing, for example.

A well-ordered garden is attractive in
its own way. Many gardeners take
great pride in keeping everything neat
and tidy, which not only looks good,
but also increases productivity. 

Suitability of the space?

An important point to consider is whether the space you want to use is suitable for vegetables or whether you will have to modify the design to allow for problem areas. For example, there is no point in trying to grow vegetables under trees. Nor can they be grown on swamp-like ground. Removing the trees or, at least, reducing the shade they cast is possible, but it may be undesirable 
or too expensive. Wet ground can be drained, of course, but this, again, may be too expensive, and it may be 
better to turn that part of the garden into a pond.

What’s the weather like?

Although it is not a serious problem for the design of the garden, the weather does play a part in your plans. A vegetable garden should have plenty of 
sunshine, so if you want to reserve the sunny part of the garden for relaxation and sunbathing, there may well be nowhere to grow vegetables. If the bottom of the garden is a frost hollow, growth will be delayed there, and this may 
upset the overall decorative balance of your garden even if it does not affect 
its productivity. Prevailing dry, wet, cold or warm climates may affect what 
you can grow and therefore limit the productive or decorative qualities of 
your intended garden.