The Kitchen Garden

Plant paletteSo now you have a great outline for your garden.  Today we are going to design your kitchen garden. You may use your original plan, or you may want to outline just the kitchen area and do a separate plan for it, and then for each ‘room’ in your garden. I will use the same plan as before. You may want to do the same; just enlarge the kitchen part of your original plan on your photocopier or scan it and enlarge that area.

What style you wish to utilise in this room. Do you want a rustic look or would you prefer a more formal look to it? A rustic look could include pebbles on the walkways and railway sleepers for edging or you may want to build and plaster edges or beds. Perhaps you want to separate areas with small hedges to compartmentalise the plantings? The French country look is quite fashionable at the moment and it’s pretty, romantic and quite easy to accomplish. This look requires wrought iron, small pebbles or cobble-stone paving, at least one lemon tree and of course, pottery.

kitchen garden in raised bedsRaised beds assist you in keeping animals out of them and can be raised to whatever height you prefer. Great for wheelchair bound gardeners, golden oldies and the back, too! Because it is a kitchen garden does not mean that this room should not have a focal point, a bit of décor or some ornamentals in it. Ornamental lemon or orange trees are very pretty and a focal point in any room is pleasing to the eye. Your focal point could be a lemon tree (think of the sun requirement though as it may throw too much shade) or it could be a water feature in the middle of a round bed. What about the floor of the room? Would you want to use stepping stones in-between the beds or would you want to use gravel or perhaps a ground cover? In a room in your house, you would hang curtains to keep out the sun and the cold and to finish the room off. You would also hang a beautiful work of art or a television screen. So what about the walls of your vegetable garden? You could hang pots in wrought iron holders in which you plant your herbs, or you could hang a trellis to plant your tomatoes against. It is both functional and attractive and raises the eye. This is great design. Use all areas – a garden should not be one dimensional.

Copper water sprinklerWhat if you don’t have space for an entire bed outside your kitchen? Use the garden wall and create a vertical garden! It could be a grouping of wall pots, or a ladder leaning up against the wall with pots standing on the steps which is very pretty. It could be a container garden; pots of various sizes and heights, old wooden boxes (coca cola boxes are being sold all over, currently) or even an old coal stove or a wheelbarrow painted up with drainage holes punched into it. This is such a lovely way of getting creative, recycling and having fun in the sun! We’re only limited by our own imaginations. I have seen a herb garden made out of twelve two litre cold-drink bottles that had the bottoms cut off and were nailed onto a piece of wood upside-down. The lids were kept on but a hole was drilled into them for drainage. Once the wood was hung on the wall the bottles were planted up and a sprinkler attached to the top. Very little water was wasted as it ran down out of one and into the next bottle. The plants were out of harm’s way and they grew well and covered the bottles. It eventually looked like a wall of herbs and smelled fantastic. It cost around R300.00 all inclusive. That’s creative!

Herbs and vegetable leavesOf course, vegetables and herbs require water and composting. Don’t pay for it – it comes free of charge! In summer rains, collect the water gushing off your roof or down the drainpipe and water early in the mornings. Depending on where you are located, a good watering every second day should suffice. Create a compost heap near your vegetable garden (perhaps in the room that now houses your wash-line, garden shed and dustbins?) Put all your garden refuse (except seeding weeds), vegetable peelings, shredded newspaper and egg cartons, broken teabags and the like into a hole dug in the ground, a bin or a drum (with holes in it for aeration) and mix it with some soil and water it. Don’t let it dry out. Put earthworms into it to help break it down or some compost accelerator that you buy from a nursery for next to nothing. Remember, as with anything in life; what you put into it, you will get out of it. Cooked vegetables and meats will attract rats so be careful!

No matter what you wish to plant, which style you wish to use or what shape your garden space is, it is a room and your plan will include an entrance/exit, a focal point, walls, flooring and perhaps some sort of seating. First look at the area from all sides.

  1. Where is your main entrance?
  2. What are you facing? A wall?
  3. What is the shape of this area?

Now, just have fun! Take ideas from your mood board and play. Stand in the space and look at your plan.

  • What will your focal point be?
  • Where will it be?
  • What shape will your beds take?

Upcycle and recycle containers to plant inTraditional designs for herb and vegetable gardens are a cartwheel shape, straight lines or even a checkerboard shape, but this should not dictate your design. It just shows that you can do just what you want. Once you are happy with your plan prepare your space; build walls, prepare walkways, install that gorgeous old gate you’ve saved for ten years, and most importantly, prepare your soil. Good compost some bone-meal and slow release nitrogen will be a great start to this very rewarding part of gardening. If you have the space to include a table and two or more chairs, think of the flooring you would like. If your herb garden is going to be formal, then perhaps you wish to pave part of it? If it is an informal garden, your walkways and the floor under the table and chairs could be covered with bark chips, nut shells or wood shavings. Water the soil and check on it for weeds. Get them out, roots and all because these will become the bane of your life once you have planted.

So, back to our plan;

Garden plan with key

The key tells us that most of this area is paved. It also shows three entry/exit points, one of which is from the kitchen, the other two are from surrounding area (road and driveway). The entire area is enclosed by garden and house walls. There are many options here;

  • Make three ‘rooms’ out of this area (utility, seating and planting)
  • Lift all the paving for a big open garden area
  • Lift some of the paving (maybe in a checkerboard pattern?) or
  • Incorporate all these options!

The numbers 1, 2 and 3 denote the three rooms you could make out of this area. In order to create an open flow and not block out the sun, I would not install very high structures. However, I would still have a utility area in section 1, seating in section 2 and planting in section 3. Once done, the divisions will hardly be evident but it will feel balanced.

Room no 1: The Utility area.

bird bath as planterIn this area you may want to put a wash line against the perimeter wall (that side will get the most sun). I’d suggest you store your dustbins opposite that, against the garage wall. If you wish to have a compost bin, you could place it in the corner where it gets sun. (The heat will help the compost to break down). The broken line between this room and the next (2) is actually an open space, so this is where you could put a gate or perhaps two beautiful pots planted up with ornamental lemon trees.

Room no 2: Seating or planting?

Being right outside your door, you may wish to use this area as the seating area because

  1. it is convenient when carrying trays and
  2. mud is not going to be walked into the house.

It’s absolutely up to you how you choose to decorate it; you may want to hang hammocks out there, create a lounging area or a dining area for early summer breakfasts! Because you walk out of the house and see a perimeter wall, you may wish to use that part of the wall to create a focal point. Or, you may wish to make the focal point in the middle of this room so that it can be seen from all three entry/exit points. Perhaps install a water feature? Or even a raised planter or a pot?

veranda seatingOf course all of these options are mere suggestions since everyone’s needs differ, as do their property. On my plan I would remove every second paver against the wall in room 2 and plant low growing herbs or a mix of herbs and flowers purely to include a bit of colour in the seating area. Otherwise, one could place a row of pots against the wall to create a similar look. I would keep the pavers in room 1 for ease of maintenance and use stones and pavers to lay out the herb garden borders and stepping stones in room 3.

From room 2, you can see into the next room (3) and this is where you can plant your herbs and vegetables. The area is almost a square and there are again, many ways to utilise this area;

Decide what shape you will use for your planting. Do you wish to screen the rooms 2 and 3 from each other or will you use an archway to delineate the ‘borders’? Perhaps install a short picket fence with a little gate? It is very attractive and may keep pets and children out of the bed. You will notice a broken line at the gate end of the 3rd room. In the small square that appears to have a red circle in it, I would suggest another focal point as it can be seen down the two sides of the house and through the gate.  It may be a tall pot, a water feature or even piece of art against the wall.
Planting shapes

At this point we have three ‘rooms’ outside of the kitchen. You need to decide how you wish to ‘decorate’ them. Begin with the floor. Is the ground level? Is the paving safe and secure? What will you use in the seating area?  What do you wish to do with the walls? Plant a close growing creeper; hang pots, or perhaps an art installation?

Next time, we’ll get to planting! Meanwhile visit your favourite nursery and have a look at what herbs are available. Choose the flooring materials and furniture or features. Sometimes what you want and what you get are very different, but it doesn’t matter. We’ll make it work. Once you know what you want, the rest will be easy and we’ll have fun planting!

See you then!