Dedicate a space to edible plants, and you can experience the freshest, most seasonal produce possible. Here’s how to get growing with style.

By Mary S. Chadduck
Updated July 29, 2020
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Among the best, and definitely tastiest, rewards you can get from gardening is harvesting food you’ve grown yourself. And where better to do that than a kitchen garden? No, this doesn’t mean raising tomatoes and lettuce on the window sill by your kitchen sink (though you could give that a try if you wanted to). Instead, the term “kitchen garden” refers to a certain style of outdoor edible garden, artfully designed with efficiency in mind. With a bit of planning and planting, you can create your own kitchen garden so you can enjoy fresh and nutritious produce right from your backyard.

Dana Gallagher

What Is a Kitchen Garden?

A kitchen garden is a fancy name for a veggie plot. It’s basically a space that’s devoted to growing a variety of food crops destined for, you guessed it, the kitchen. Utilitarian in appearance with rows in straight lines, traditional kitchen garden design was geared for simple planting, ease of harvest, and growing enough fruits, vegetables, and herbs to eat throughout the entire year. While you may or may not want to grow enough food for a year, modern kitchen gardens are still designed with simple planting and ease of harvest in mind.

Jason Donnelly

How to Start a Kitchen Garden

Creating your own kitchen garden is much like starting any new garden. It’s all about selecting where you want it to go, deciding how big to make it, and what to fill it with.

Choose the Best Location

Look for a sunny spot because most kitchen garden plants do best with 6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day. And make sure that the space has easy access to a water source.

Figure Out How Big Your Garden Needs to Be

This depends on how much food you want and how much space you have. Twenty basil plants take up too much space if you want the occasional garnish, but if your goal is to preserve pesto to eat all year, you will need every one of those plants. Also think about how much time you want to spend taking care of your garden. You can always expand next year if you feel like you can handle more.

Measure Your Space and Sketch It Out

Even a rough outline on paper will help you visualize the garden better (plus it's easier to move plants and garden features on paper). Looking at your drawing, decide on boundary and path placement. Boundaries mark the garden as a separate space from its surroundings and paths provide access to your edible bounty.

Peter Krumhardt

Create Clear Boundaries

One of the main features that sets kitchen gardens apart from growing vegetables amidst other plants is fencing or some sort of enclosure around it. How you go about that is entirely up to you. For example, you can achieve a formal appearance by using iron fences or go rustic with unpainted pickets or wicker. Strategically placed plants can also help define your garden. For example, alternating heads of red and green lettuce can do double-duty as an attractive, low-growing boundary and greens for your salad bowl.

What to Plant in a Kitchen Garden

This is your garden, your choice, so plant what you want to eat. It sounds obvious, but why devote space to cabbage if you loathe it? Think about the colors, textures, and scents you like and grow plants that reflect those preferences. Basil comes in colors other than green and there's one that smells like lemon. Swiss chard stems of bright red practically pop and purple beans are easy to see among the green leaves to harvest. A fun idea might be to plant a purple themed kitchen garden; see how many of the veggies or herbs you like come in purple and then plant them.

Fruits are also a traditional kitchen garden resident. Hanging strawberries are a modern classic, but don’t stop there. Fruit trees fit into surprising places by pruning to keep them small. Citrus does well in pots, as do figs; move them indoors when cold weather threatens.

Herbs from the grocery store, dried or fresh, can be expensive but growing and drying your favorites is easy. Herbs will thrive in a separate bed dedicated to them or tucked into the larger scheme of things in your kitchen garden. For example, try using basil or lavender as a tidy edging around your other vegetable beds.

After deciding what you want to plant, figure out how big each crop gets at maturity. This information is typically found on the back of a seed packet or on the plant label of a potted seedling. Add up those sizes and use the drawing you made earlier to see if everything fits before you plant. Many veggies come in space-saving varieties, so if you’re running out of room, a dwarf tomato or patio eggplant could be the way to go.

Starting your kitchen garden plants from seeds is the cheapest option, and many veggies like peas, lettuce, kale, tomatoes, and squash all grow easily from seed. You can also find plenty of these same plants at garden centers, ready to transplant for instant gratification. However, if you want to add fruit trees and berries, it’s best to get them as bare roots (just what it sounds like) in very early spring or growing in quart or larger containers from nurseries.

Ed Gohlich

Add Stylish Accents to Your Kitchen Garden

A few accessories that reflect your personal style can be fun additions to your garden. A simple birdbath will attract birds and butterflies. A bench in the shade will tempt you to slow down and admire your hard work. Bee skeps and sundials are both traditional garden centerpieces. Garden cloches (glass, bell-shaped coverings protect plants from temperature extremes) also make beautiful garden ornaments.

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