Posted by Gardening Felix | Posted in Landscaping, Vegetable Gardening | Posted on 18-08-2012
In today’s gardens, a vegetable garden is mostly in a separated spot, while the rest of the garden is filled with lawn, maybe a pond and ornamental plants and perennials. I think, however, that vegetable plants can also develop a beauty that we normally only see in ornamental plants.
A different approach is the so-called “kitchen garden”, a concept that reaches back to the European renaissance, were noblemen built vegetable gardens not only for a constant supply of legumes and herbs to their kitchen, but also as eye-catchers. These gardens contained both crop plants and ornamental plants and looked like imitations of the kings’ parks (like Versailles near Paris or Sansoucci near Potsdam) with their structured and symmetric layout. I’ll give you some tips on what to pay attention to if you want to follow this layout for your own vegetable garden.
How to create the general layout
Residential kitchen gardens were parts of larger, symmetrically ordered gardens and thus quite formal. If you think that this form would be too strict for your garden, you can lean more towards a wild “cottage garden”-style. In the “historically correct” form of kitchen gardens, paved paths lead through the different vegetable patches so you can easily reach all of them.
The pathways shouldn’t be too narrow – they should be sufficiently wide for a hand barrow. The patches are separated like a chessboard; the whole garden may be surrounded by a hedge.
What plants to choose for your vegetable garden?
Which combination of plants should be planted in the separate beds depends on how they harmonize with the adjoining beds in colour. Generally, it’s nice to have differences in height: Simple flat beds look a bit boring and are not really a sight for sore eyes. Try to incorporate trellises for beans or other climbers. You should also combine vegetables and ornamental plants of different heights in the kitchen garden: This could be cabbage and lady’s mantle, for example, or corn and geraniums, spinach and dahlias etc.
These plants also differ in color: I.e. the blossoms of lady’s mantle are golden-orange, while cabbage is of a light green. I find it better to not combine two many colors in adjacent beds – if you spread the colors over the garden, it will look a bit more structured while retaining the lovely flair of a kitchen garden.
How to improve your kitchen garden
The tips I’ve given above may seem quite simple – however, the devil is in the details. First of all, a kitchen garden will not look good unless you’re constantly improving it. Try to keep it as full and lush as possible and whenever you’ve got the feeling that something’s missing in a patch, choose a new and surprising plant for it.
I would also advise you to make more from the borders of patches: As kitchen gardens often have a strict structure and are not as densely planted due to the fact that vegetables are often taken from the patch when they’re ripe, the garden could from time to time look a bit empty. To counteract this, you can plant smaller plants like lavender, curry-plant or salvia around the borders of the patches. Be careful to make these fit the main plants in the respective bed.
Trellises can also be an amazing sight, especially when they’re home-made (f.e. irom hazel branches). They don’t necessarily have to be grown by climbers all year but are eyecatchers themselves.
Pay attention to roughly following the rules of crop rotation. This is especially true for plants like cabbages that drain lots of nutrients from the soil – they can be followed f.e. by peas (peas can restore the soil’s nitrogen).
For great impressions on how nice a kitchen garden can be, I recommend you to have a look at the BBC series “The Victorian kitchen garden” from the 1980s on youtube!