With roots deep in history, kitchen gardens were once essential elements of every household. While that may be the case for
some today, they are also gardens that add unusual beauty to a landscape.
The goal of most kitchen gardens is to produce food efficiently and beautifully. Many gardeners choose to create a focal point, such as a collection of herbs or a more traditional sculpture or ornament. Some plants may dictate a garden design based on rows—beans and peas, for example—while other crops may require spreading or support, including cucumbers or tomatoes. Fruit trees add vertical interest and can camouflage nearby architecture; some varieties can be trained to grow flat against a wall, creating an espalier. Or you can set them in an allee (rows of trees flanking a path) leading to the entrance of the kitchen garden.
What do you like to eat? How you answer will tell you what you should plant in your kitchen garden. Before you pick up your shovel, consider the following:
Successive crops. Planting both cool- and warm-weather vegetables will give you a harvest of vegetables and herbs continuously throughout the spring, summer, and fall. In the early spring, grow lettuce, greens (such as mesclun mix, mustard, and arugula), peas, radishes, carrots, and broccoli. After you've harvested your cool-weather crops, plant hot-weather favorites such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and herbs. In fall, you can harvest potatoes, cabbages, and kale.
Horizontal and vertical growers. Train tomato plants into towers or cages to keep them vertical. Grapes can also be trained onto a pergola.
Dwarf or container varieties. Even if you have limited space, you can enjoy fruits such as apples and pears. Some dwarf varieties can be grown in containers on your patio.
Herbs. Many kitchen gardens feature a separate herb garden, which is a smart way to raise this expensive type of produce.
Seeds versus seedlings. Many vegetables and herbs can be grown reliably from seeds, making them quite economical. Try peas, beans, squash, lettuce, mesclun mix, beets, kale, broccoli, radishes, and carrots.
While planning to ensure an efficient harvest is important, you'll still need to include hardscape elements such as borders, paths, and support structures. Adding towers, cages, or other supports to crops such as tomatoes keeps them growing up—and not over—your other vegetables. A tower can be a sturdy, defined structure that adds a formal feel to the garden. Or it can be rustic, such as a tepee fashioned from three twigs to support an early crop of snap peas. Raised beds—which can be made of stone, wood, or brick—facilitate planting, growth, and harvest, and these geometrically shaped beds make a kitchen garden look organized and orderly. To keep out animals that may make a feast of your garden, consider including a fence.
Kitchen gardens may feature utilitarian but beautiful accessories. Blanching pots keep rhubarb, asparagus, and celery from turning green. Other kitchen-garden accessories include bee skeps and sundials, both traditional centerpieces for herb gardens. And garden cloches—glass, bell-shaped coverings, right, that protect plants from temperature extremes—also make beautiful garden ornaments.