Designing a Kitchen Garden - Part 1
Is a Kitchen Garden right for you, or could a few raised beds fulfil your fruit and veg growing requirements?
Firstly, size! Too large an area and you may need to recruit a full time gardener. Kitchen gardens are not for the faint hearted as they are rarely low maintenance. However, you may decide that you just wish to dabble with a few of your favourites and a smaller area suits you fine.
A sunny open, south facing site is ideal. A shadier site will limit your options, but there are still some fruit and veg that you can grow. Walls around a kitchen garden create turbulence from the prevailing wind, so ideally a boundary should be porous to prevent turbulence from the prevailing winds. Do you need to keep out hungry visitors such as rabbits and deer? If you cannot keep them out by putting in a fence, the option may be to use a fruit cage over the beds.
Most kitchen gardens have a greenhouse as the main focal point around which the rest of the garden is designed. An East West orientaton makes the most of limited Winter and Spring light but this is less important with a small greenhouse or when just used for Summer crops. Many structures are almost square so it really won't matter at all.
And don't forget services: water for irrigation and electrics for power and lighting. Can you get mains water to the area or will you use water butts? Hose pipes are unattractive so you may design a water feature into the kitchen garden for dipping watering cans. If you have to use a hosepipe, crops can be damaged when it is dragged around the garden: use hose bollards on the edge of the beds to prevent this. These could become an attractive little detail on the corners of the beds.
To grow in the ground or raised beds? In the ground is best if you have the ideal soil, loamy, to 300mm, moisture retentive but free draining. Otherwise think about raised beds which mean you can control the growing medium. Size and material choice will add to the expense, but they can idea structure to the garden and look attractive in their own right.
The layout and size of the beds start to dictate the paths and movement around the site. Paths are usually a minimum of 600mm to allow for wheelbarrow access. Measure the length from your knee to foot when kneeling to get the ideal width. Large ground level beds will need access to the rows of crops. Simple paths of compacted soil will work, although weeds will still be an issue.
For main path access, grass is cheap and looks nice but there is a maintenance issue: make sure paths match the the width of your lawn mower. Edging borders will be needed to stop grass running into adjacent beds. Think about having 'standing' areas for gardening equipment to keep them off the grass. Another option is to use brick, which is less slippy than Indian sandstone paving. A hard surface will need allowance for drainage, as well as ensuring that haunches are not too wide. Gravel chippings or hoggin would also work well, but weeds may become a problem, even with a textile membrane in place.
Locate closer to the house with an easy to use and permanent path
Site away from any potential root competion with adjacent permanent planting such as hedges and trees
Terrace any slopes and add a ramp
Focus on your favourites and be realistic about what you can achieve
A minimum of four beds are required for crop rotation
Install electrics, irrigation and storage areas for tools and compost delivery
Allow approximately 5m2 per person of cropping area to provide adequate vegetable produce
Look out for our next Journal update Designing a Kitchen Garden Part 2 for further detail and information.
After extending our house we were left with an awkwardly shaped garden and as it was north facing, mainly shady too. The new garden that Louise has created is a real surrise and a delight to use, helping to make the space look much larger and making the most of the sunny spots.Mr & Mrs Fraser, Bramhall