Kitchen Gardens

The ultimate in practical gardening—growing fruits, veggies, herbs, and edible flowers right outside the kitchen door.

Photography by Rob Cardillo


Herbs for the Kitchen Garden
It's a good idea to have a small herb garden easily accessible to the kitchen door so that you can snip a few herbs while cooking—even if it's raining. To grow herbs successfully in a dooryard garden, be sure the soil has good drainage and the area is in sunlight for at least 6 hours per day.

A kitchen garden is the perfect place for thyme, parsley, marjoram, oregano, and cilantro. You might want to include several kinds of basils—sweet, small-leaved, and purple—since they have such different flavors. Rosemary makes a handsome tall shrub for the kitchen garden planted directly in the ground or, in colder areas, in containers. This is the place for French tarragon, too; it's not decorative enough for a flower border. Plan on keeping a rigorously controlled mint plant or two close at hand, as well. Plant mint in tubs aboveground or in bottomless sunken buckets to keep it from crowding out other plants.

Chervil, once started, will seed itself under a shrub, sticking to its spot for the rest of your life. Dill will also show up dependably every spring. Consider the variegated sages, as well, both for their decorative contributions to the garden's beauty and for their culinary properties.

Chives and garlic chives are two more kitchen-garden favorites. Be sure to cut the dying blossom heads from the latter, though, because it's as ruthless a colonizer as the mints, although it spreads only by seed, not by roots. Its umbels of white starry flowers add beauty in the garden, and the flat leaves add interesting flavor when chopped and sprinkled on salads and soups.

You may decide to make your kitchen garden more ambitious and duplicate a Colonial garden, complete with the medicinal and culinary herbs that early European settlers grew and relied upon. This project would contain different plants than you'd find in a typical kitchen garden. (For example, a Colonial garden wouldn't have included basils, French tarragon, or coriander.) Visiting historical gardens is a good way to get ideas for your own garden.


Edible Flowers for the Kitchen Garden
Edible flowers are the perfect companion plants for kitchen gardens, adding color and fragrance as well as ornaments for salads, cakes, and cold soups, and garnishes for the plate. Here are some excellent choices for your kitchen garden:

Bee balm, monarda (Monarda didyma)
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Calendula, pot marigold (Calendula officinalis)
Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp. and hybrids)
Johnny-jump-ups, violets (Viola spp.)
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Marigolds (Tagetes spp.)
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
Roses (Rosa spp. and hybrids)
Scented geraniums (Pelargonium spp.)
Sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus)

This article is courtesy of Rodale's Ultimate Encylcopedia of Organic Gardening.