I’m working with my new clients to set up their kitchen gardens. There’s a lot to consider about the plot itself, let alone what to grow in it. Below I offer a list to help sort through these considerations. But, first, a rant.
You can’t make a bad choice so don’t get too hung up on landscaping issues. Gardens, most especially vegetable and herb gardens, are always beautiful, fun and tasty. Gardens always do their own magical, wondrous thing — that’s what makes gardening so amazing, so addictive — so your job is to stay flexible, perceptive and appreciative. Try your garden the first year raised without borders to see what you learn. You will always try it differently next year. Add a formal border or dig it in the following year. There is no right or wrong decision here: you simply can’t lose. Give yourself and your garden a season of growth and experimentation. You’ll be really glad you did and will be astonished by how much fun you and your family had growing your own food.
Now, here’s the list of considerations.
- Placing the edible garden in your yard
The herbs and vegetables need a minimum of six hours of full, direct sunlight every day so selecting the best spot for the garden plot is critical if you want tasty, abundant garden produce during the growing season. More than six hours of sunlight always preferred. Perhaps, too, some trees will need to be trimmed to maximize sunlight in the new garden.
Also, every yard has its own microclimate so placing the garden should take into consideration not just light patterns, but wind and heat from the house or driveway. For example, one of my larger gardens extends the entire southside of a three-story, brick home. The heat radiating off the south walls and a cement patio determines significantly the width of the beds from the house and what plants go where.
- Garden soil
At least here in Hyde Park/South Kenwood, every garden I create needs a good garden soil mix for optimal growing. The indigenous soil usually is sandy, which may be fine for sage but dries out too fast for all the other vegetables and fruits on hot summer days. So I recommend 1-1.5 feet of good, composted vegetable garden soil mix. There are a couple of good suppliers locally and talking with their sales people is always helpful to learn the components and percentages. (More about soil another time.)
- Raised beds or not
Adding garden soil will raise the bed above the rest of the yard. If you don’t want a raised bed in your yard and want your vegetable garden to be flush with your lawn and landscaping, then the bed needs to be dug about a foot deep, the original soil removed and new garden soil dug in: modification of a French double dig approach. Your bed will still stick up a bit because of mulching. (A lot more on mulching another time.) Otherwise, if the new garden soil will sit on top existing soil, you now have a raised bed.
- Borders or no border on raised beds
Whether to add formal borders to raised beds is a personal, aesthetic decision.
Some don’t mind the raised bed without a border. Hedge-like borders can be created with an intensive planting of marigolds, onions, garlic, potatoes, etc., along the edge.
A more formal approach is to add a border ALA a French potager, a designed vegetable garden with traditions going back to medieval monastic gardens. Borders might be the traditional wood or stone, or modern block. All can be lovely.
Wood creates a clean border and the top edge can be finished or not. Stone and block take more space and reduce your growing space in the garden. Obviously stone is more expensive and elegant. Some block shapes imitate stone blocks and make an affordable, attractive border. From my own experience, I do not recommend brick because the bricks aren’t heavy enough to stay in place given the weight and pressure of the raised bed inside the border; they slide out of place and look messy. Formal borders should be about 24 inches high.
So remember that you’ve already made the right decision to build a food garden in your yard. Your garden will be successful and amazing beyond what you can imagine right now. Don’t stress about landscaping decisions too much. Go lightly and prepare for a lot of fun and good eating.