This kitchen garden expert has vegetable plots renowned for their fresh flavors and even fresher designs. Take a peek and see how her garden grows.


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.

Native species in the perennial beds attract pollinators. Daylilies and coneflowers add height and pops of warm hues to the greenery. Terraced planting allows plants at every height to be seen.

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.

A viburnum tree in the center of the garden becomes a natural trellis for morning glories or red runner beans. Creamy white snapdragons add softness to the viburnum's trunk, and offers stark contrast to climbing purple morning glories tangled in the branches.

'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.

Ellen's Favorite Kitchen Garden Varieties


Cucumber: 'Boston Pickling'

Eggplant: 'Rosa Bianca'

Sweet Pepper: 'Corno di Toro'

Tomatoes: 'Brandywine,' 'Big Rainbow,' and 'Green Zebra'

Cape Gooseberry: 'Aunt Molly's Ground Cherry'


Carrots: 'Touchon,' 'Chantenay'

Garlic: 'German Red'

Onions: 'Red Torpedo,' 'Walla Walla Sweet,' 'Summer Bunching'

Potato: 'French Fingerling'

Turnip: 'Gilfeather'

Leafy Greens

Kale: 'Lacinato'

Swiss Chard: 'Five Color Silverbeet'

Collard: 'Champion'

Mesclun: cutting lettuce, arugula, mustard cress, chervil

Endive: 'Maraichere Tres Fine'


Artichoke: 'Imperial Star'

Broccolis: 'Romanesco,' 'Rapini,' 'Early Purple Sprouting'

Peas: 'Green Arrow,' sugar snap

Pole Bean: 'Trionfo Violetto'

Comments (1)

June 3, 2018
Seriously? I know that gardening doesn't always result in PERFECT specimens but couldn't you have found some better looking tomatoes? Not a single one pictured was unblemished. Wait a bad! Today's young adults have no clue what REAL vegetables from the garden may, or may not, look like. I recall waiting in line at Kroger's Customer Service Desk. The young man was returning (for exchange) an ear of corn because it had a worm in it! Dear me keep a straight face. I so wanted to say "This is what happens sometimes when you buy organic."