When Ellen Ecker Ogden, author of 'The Complete Kitchen Garden,' planted her first vegetable garden, she was fresh out of art school and looking for a cheap way to eat. It was a process of trial and error, but the thrill of dashing to the garden to clip a few leaves of lettuce and beet greens kept her going. Her kitchen garden has evolved from long, straight rows to dramatic arcs and triangles, inspired by European kitchen gardeners and formal design.
Lately, she grows a compact four-square potager design in her southern Vermont backyard. The 25x25-foot garden yields produce for two with some extra to share or freeze. Each year starts with a plan on paper and the blank canvas of rich organic soil. Seeds and plants are her paintbrush.
It might seem an unlikely choice to train pole beans up an arbor, but Ellen wants her small backyard garden to have some visual rewards, too. Just because you eat it, doesn't mean it needs to look plain or practical. That's why her design made the shift from rows to shapes—it added whimsy.
Pea-gravel paths separate the four quadrants and keep things orderly. Stepping-stones within the beds make it easy to navigate. Ellen always includes a bench in her gardens. It's great for a quick rest or to sit and watch the garden grow.
The focal point wood obelisk is easily moved if needed each season. The combination of plants with large leaves, wispy grasses, and dainty stems gives this section of the garden tons of visual interest, and makes the plants in the mixed bed easy to differentiate.
'Lemon Gem' marigolds and artichokes lean out of their beds at the entrance. While the artichoke plant's leaves fall into the blue-green spectrum, the yellow-green hues of the marigold foliage adds distinct contrast. Deep green hedges define the garden's entry and are reminiscent of English garden landscaping.