With their network of paths, colorful rows of crops and decorative interplanting, successful productive gardens provide a feast for the eyes as well as for the table. Learn key ingredients to make your own productive garden.
Growing food close to home is not only fun, but also allows you to enjoy fruit and vegetables that are either not available in stores or are too expensive to consider purchasing. In a kitchen garden the layout and surfaces are functional, creating a sense of ordered, attractive abundance: geometric beds filled with herbs and vegetables, and taller plants, such as a bay tree or standard rose, planted as a focal point.
Kitchen gardens need to be planned carefully to make them easy to manage, and beds
should be planted with different produce each year so as not to exhaust the soil; to extend the growing season, greenhouses and cold frames can be used. You can achieve a more flowery feel by including ornamental plants, such as lavender hedging, colorful clumps of dahlias and drifts of nasturtiums.
Pathways are usually made of brick, stone or concrete, and should be wide enough to accommodate wheelbarrows and space for you to work the beds easily without disturbing the planting. Dwarf boxwood hedging or wood are often used to provide neat edging. As an alternative, divisions between different areas can be created with fruit trees such as dwarf apples or pears, trained along wires to make beautiful screens that both flower and fruit.
The roots of modern kitchen gardens can be seen in the walled gardens of the Victorian country houses, where aristocrats cultivated exotic species and grew fresh food for the whole household.
Much like today, crops were set out in orderly lines in geometric beds edged with boxwood, and separated by paths made of gravel, tamped-down soil or industrial ash. Tender fruit trees were trained along south-facing walls that radiated heat to protect them from hard frosts, while soft fruits were grouped together under netted frames to defend them against birds.
Long, heated greenhouses were often incorporated into the structure of the wall, allowing early cropping and the cultivation of tender produce, such as peaches and apricots.
Raised beds were first introduced to improve drainage, but they also provide a sense of order. For people with limited mobility, beds can be raised to up to 3 feet.
Pathways should be at least 3 feet wide in order to make the garden easy to navigate. Hard surfaces, such as brick, stone slabs or gravel are ideal since they withstand heavy everyday use.
Ornamental features are always put to good use in productive gardens. Trellis and wooden or metal obelisks create height and rhythm in the garden, but also provide support for climbers, such as runner beans or sweet peas.
Crops planted in rows can be easily watched, cared for and harvested, and the spaces between rows provide access for weeding. A geometric layout gives these beds their unique character.
Terra-cotta rhubarb forcers and plant pots are practical and provide traditional decoration. Patterned brick or pebble paths, and arches for cordons, also make attractive features.