Terry L. Yockey
The French have been combining flowers and vegetables in their gardens since medieval days. The kitchen garden or "potager" continues to be popular in France as evidenced by a recent government survey which revealed that almost a fourth of the fruit and vegetables consumed by the French were home-grown.
Americans seem to be following suit, because in the last few years kitchen gardening has really taken off. For those of you wondering what a kitchen garden is; the best description is that it is a place to grow the things you bring into the kitchen--herbs, vegetables, fruits and berries, and even the cutting flowers for your table.
If I had to choose to keep only one of my gardens (heaven forbid!)--it would be my kitchen garden. The funny thing is that for many years I scoffed at the idea of having a vegetable garden. I was quick to point out that I am a flower gardener so why waste space on mundane vegetables that are readily available at the Farmer's Market? But that's the beauty of the kitchen garden--it's vegetable gardening with style!
My own kitchen garden is basically an herb and salad garden. I chose to use the traditional four-square layout, which is simply a rectangle split into four equal parts. Where the parts meet in the center, I've added a circle to frame the large iron tree sculpture that holds my kitchen garden "knick knacks." Other garden art you may want to use as a focal point in your own four-square garden might be a woven bee skep, a beautiful rosemary topiary or a metal armillary or sundial, but please--don't use a bird bath. I like the birds as much as anyone, but growing your edibles where they bath, (etc., etc.) just is not a good idea.
When choosing the location for your garden, keep in mind that most vegetables and herbs need as much sun as possible to do their best. Good drainage is also a must, so avoid low-lying areas where water collects. Another consideration is the distance from your garden to the kitchen. If you are a spontaneous cook, you may want to have your herbs and veggies right outside the kitchen door within easy picking distance. If proximity isn't a major concern, decide where you will spend the most time and site it for maximum viewing. Do you spend a lot of time relaxing on your deck or patio or would your rather see your garden framed by the picture window in your favorite room?
When you've chosen the best site, prepare the area just as you would for a new perennial bed. You will need some stakes and string to lay out your chosen design. To form a rectangle, position the stakes at the four corners, with the string running between them. Triangles may be marked off on the diagonal, and diamonds created by positioning a center stake midway between each corner stake. To create a circle, measure a length of string equivalent to the radius of the finished bed and attach the string to a stake anchored at the circle's center. With the end of the string in your hand, walk the circle's circumference, etching its outside edge as you go.
Once you have the "bones" of the garden--it is time to plant your family's favorite herbs [see my article on culinary herbs], fruits and vegetables. For season-long color, add bright edible flowers in groups in the front and around the border as edging plants. (See list below for edible flowers.)
I have put together a slide show showing how I re-made my kitchen garden at http://www.northerngardening.com/Slideshow/index.html. Sorry...it doesn't seem to work with Mozilla/Firefox, so please use Internet Explorer to view the slides.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) perennial
Kitchen Gardening Books
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