Clever Kitchen Ideas: Kitchen Garden

This unique garden design transforms the unused side of an island into the perfect place for planting.
By: Heidi Karpa


Turn the back of a kitchen island into the perfect place for planting.

Turn the back of a kitchen island into the perfect place for planting.

Materials and Tools:

acrylic shelves
fluorescent light fixture
plant and aquarium bulb
various small potted plants
various decorative pots
beta fish
fish bowl
tape measure
masking tape
paper and pencil
chalk board paint
small paint brush or roller
drill and drill bits
screws and anchors


Painting the island a dark color will accent the plants.

Painting the island a dark color will accent the plants.


1. Measure the area on your island cabinet base, which will become your kitchen garden.

2. With paper and pencil, map out your design concept. This step is completed when you know how many shelves you'll need, what their lengths are and where they're located on the cabinet base.

3. Use masking tape directly on your island cabinet base to outline your design. You can step back, review and readjust directly on the cabinet base to create the perfect look. Home design or garden design magazines can help jump-start your creativity.

4. Tip: Remember to think about the space in between the shelves to give your plants room to grow.

5. Select your shelves and fluorescent light fixture first. Keep in mind that the depth of the shelves or shelf brackets could affect the layout of your design.

6. With your shelves in hand, go to your local hardware or garden center. Mix and match a variety of plants and decorative pots until you select the ones you want. Make sure the depth of the shelf will hold the decorative pots that you select. Helpful hint: Keep in mind your kitchen's existing design elements. Working with or contrasting existing wood and metal tones, wall color or accent colors must be considered. Make this a conscious choice and your project will look fabulous.

7. In our garden, we included a beta fish bowl to add interest. This is a fun and easy fish to care for.

8. Back home, lay out your shelves, decorative pots and plants. Line them up on the floor the way they will appear on your island cabinet base. Step back and review. Tweak as necessary.

9. Review how much space your fluorescent light fixture takes up. Does this affect your shelf placement?

10. Paint the back of your island. Chalkboard paint or another strong color is advised. Strong colors help ground a space and create visual interest. Don't be afraid of them! Your plants also look better against a stronger/deeper color choice.

11. Let the paint fully dry before installation.


Installing fluorescent lighting ensures your plants will grow.

Installing fluorescent lighting ensures your plants will grow.

12. Install your fluorescent light fixture first, according to instructions.

13. As with any installation, always work from the top down.

14. With a level, pencil and measuring tape, mark the location of your shelves on your island cabinet base. Make sure to indicate all screw locations; this will save you time.

15. Double check the clearance in between your shelves.


Clear shelving is great for letting light shine through.

Clear shelving is great for letting light shine through.

16. Install your shelves according to their instructions.

17. Repot your plants into their new decorative pots and set them out on the shelves.

18. Turn on your grow light, step back and enjoy!

Variations: Like this idea, but not really into gardening? Here are some variations to think about.

  • A children's chalkboard arts and craft center. You'll need chalkboard paint, shelves to hold cups of markers/crayons and a hanging basket for other supplies. Mount art paper or drawing pads directly to the cabinet base. This is a great way to keep the kids occupied in the kitchen.
  • Want a more grown-up, sophisticated look? For kitchen islands that face into a great room or living room, this space can be perfect to house TVs or even a ventless, gasless fireplace. This is a great way to create an instant focal point and unify both room functions.

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