Kitchen gardens have been around since people first decided to grow plants for their use rather than simply gathering them from the wild. It's the ultimate in practical gardening—growing fruits, veggies, herbs, and edible flowers right outside the kitchen door. Step outside, harvest the freshest and most flavorful produce, then cook and serve. What could be easier or better than that?
In England and France, where kitchen gardens are called potagers (poh-tah-JAYS), a lot of planning goes into making sure these humble gardens are as attractive as they are practical. Potagers feature patterned beds and arches where herbs, edible flowers, and fruits mingle with the carefully selected vegetables in a celebration of color, flavor, fragrance, and form.
Whether you design a simple kitchen garden or an elegant potager, here are some basics to get you started.
Because space in a dooryard garden is always at a premium, reserve your kitchen garden for delicate crops you want to pick a bit at a time—lettuces and other salad crops, scallions, radishes, edible-podded peas and cherry tomatoes. Crops that are beautiful as well as edible, such as strawberries and ornamental hot peppers, with their variegated foliage and multicolored fruits, are a natural for a kitchen garden too. Plant those space-hugging, main-harvest crops such as corn, squash, beans, storage onions, cabbages, and the like in your regular vegetable garden.
Include some perennial crops and containers in your kitchen garden, too. Flank the entrance to the kitchen garden with a pair of rugosa roses with their showy, edible rose hips, or blueberries, which, like rugosas, are ornamental in three seasons and produce a bumper crop of luscious berries. If you have room, grow a grapevine or a pair of hardy kiwis on an arbor leading into the kitchen garden. If you have a greenhouse or sunroom, your choices are even greater. You can position matching large containers of figs, pomegranates, or citrus plants at each side of the entrance during the growing season, then move them to the greenhouse or sunroom for winter.
Herbs and edible flowers will also brighten your kitchen garden. You could even surround the kitchen garden with a border of daylilies to give it definition. (Both the unopened buds of daylilies, valued in stir-fries, and the open flowers are edible.) Herbs were among the first kitchen-garden plants because of their ornamental value and numerous uses.