Vegetable gardens have been around since Victorian times, when they increased in popularity as life became more urban. But if you thought they all had to be uniformly plain, rectangular and entirely functional, think again. You can have a kitchen garden that’s lovely to look at as well as a way of producing delicious food.
The first thing to do is to ditch the idea of your garden as a single, huge patch of upturned soil filled with endless rows of vegetables in rigid lines. You can grow food within a fenced or walled area, and in decorative, creative ways, and your space may even be easier to work as a result.
For example, have you thought about an octagonal garden? A square one featuring semi-circular island beds, or smaller plots connected by fruit trees, maybe designed around a water feature?
As a general rule, the more space you can give to your vegetable garden, the greater the variety and quantities of food you’ll be able to produce. However, at the same time you need to stay realistic about the time you can spend on it.
For example, for a patch measuring 10ft x 13ft, you’ll need a good two hours every week between March and August to keep on top of sowing, planting, picking and keeping your vegetable garden looking good.
It’s worth drawing out your basic design on paper first. Then measure out your space with a tape measure, string and wooden stakes. Have beds running from east to west for the best sun exposure, keeping the taller plants at the northern end.
Your vegetable garden should be located somewhere with good drainage, and protection from wind, and if it faces south, so much the better. You’ll also need a good water supply, so avoid drier areas near hedges. If you can afford an outdoor tap, install one within easy reach.
Next, consider that if beds are raised even six inches above path level, drainage will improve immeasurably, especially if you have thin topsoil. Equally, elevated beds warm up more quickly when spring comes round, and it’s easier to add soil amendments such as topsoil. Weeding and similar tasks will also place less of a strain on your back.
Try and keep beds no wider than five feet, divided by paths of at least 30 inches, so you can reach right into each bed but won’t have to step into it. (Also make sure paths are wide enough for pushing a wheelbarrow.)