By definition a kitchen garden or potager is where vegetables, fruit and herbs are grown. I often include a cutting garden (cut flowers for the house) as well in my designs if space allows.
When designing, there are two key things to bear in mind: practicality and beauty. The space needs to be able to produce an abundant crop and if the layout and structure can also be beautiful then it can be closer to the house and good to look at. It doesn’t matter how much space you have either, use any container from an old dustbin to grow potatoes to olive oil cans for fresh herbs. Traditional cottage gardens often had vegetables growing amongst the flower beds, with a wigwam of beans next to roses; companion planting works well to deter problem insects.
THE STRUCTURE AND LAYOUT
Firstly, consider your site and choose a location that is as light and open as possible. If there is any risk with pests, birds, wildlife, livestock, rabbits and deer, then you will need to install a protective fence, meshing or direct cover to each of the beds.
Consider the layout of the beds – locate them in a position with as much sunlight as possible. If not full sun then it’s still not impossible, just choose to grow leafy vegetables as these need less sunlight than fruiting or root crops. If you decide to have raised beds then this certainly helps to contain the soil, improves the drainage and warms up earlier so crops get a better start. It’s also easier to protect the crops from slugs and to set up protection against birds.
The beds themselves can be either at ground level or raised beds can be built and filled with a good quality top soil and organic matter particularly if your soil is very stony or solid clay, so that rooting depth is not an issue. The width of raised beds should not be too wide so that you can reach into the centre of each without having to climb in. They can be lined with black plastic to both protect the wood and retain water – and don’t forget to add a drainage layer across the base.
Divide the beds up so that you do not have to walk on to the soil and compact it. Several smaller beds with paths 500mm in between gives better access- if the beds are a maximum of 1.2m wide then you can reach into the middle of each. They do not have to be rectangular, they can be any design, but when you are designing their shape and numbers, consider crop rotation. Your paths between each should be wide enough to allow for your wheelbarrow and for you to kneel down.
You will need to site a compost heap if you are to make compost with your waste, this can be in light or shade.
Ideally, every vegetable garden needs a greenhouse or cold frame if you are to grow from seed, otherwise the use of plug plants is recommended. Summer crops grow better in a greenhouse e.g. tomatoes, peppers and aubergines which need the warmth. The covered frame will extend the season of growth for short-term crops. Also consider other permanent structures you want to have in the garden:
- Water Supply
-Crop Protection and Fleece
WHAT TO GROW
The first seed catalogues have already arrived, so take the opportunity to sit down and enjoy choosing your vegetable seeds; with so many varieties available it pays to think carefully.
People often make the mistake of choosing to grow things they can buy cheaply at the supermarket. This year grow something different that's either hard to find or too expensive to buy regularly. How much money do you spend on salad bags? Probably a small fortune over the summer. But if you sow seeds every few weeks you can have a continual supply of really tasty leaves well into autumn.
The choice is inspiring- especially if you love food like me. Gardening and cooking seem to go hand in hand, so I'm, trying:
- Pea Serge: best for pea shoots.
- Courgette 'Tromboncino': a climbing version with long curved fruits, good grown over a pergola.
-Kale 'Cavolo Nero': the Italian chef's favourite greens, fantastic cooked simply with olive oil and garlic.
-Chilli 'Hungarian Hot Wax': not too hot, use what you need during summer then dry the remaining fruits, crumble into a kilner jar and store.
-Nasturtium 'Black Velvet': some edible flowers for my salads.
-Borlotti Beans: eat either the young pods or the beans cooked in winter stews.
Choose your plants for flavour rather than large crop volume. The disappointment of picking a tomato, putting it in your mouth expecting an intense explosion of flavour, to be met by a watery pop, doesn't encourage you to grow.
If you have a wall or fence you have the opportunity to grow trained fruit. Strain horizontal wires 30-45cm apart up the wall for support for figs, cordon the espalier apples and pears, fan plums and cherries, and peaches, almonds and apricots.
Soft fruit: a strawberry bed is always a favourite, but choose your favourites for flavour not size. Grow raspberries and currants, you will need to provide a support structure with post and wire supports 2m high.
Consider perenial herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme for a structure adding in annual or tender herbs: chives, parsley, coriander and basil from spring. And always plant mint in a pot otherwise it will take over the garden.
Susan Dunstall is a Garden Designer based in Charlbury, Oxfordshire, providing landscaping and garden design projects across Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and The Cotswolds. Designs cover any size garden and style, from contemporary to traditional, cottage garden to urban, Japanese or tropical.
Contact her on 07879 842934, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Or visit www.susandunstall.com