The Kitchen Garden




America finds itself at a crossroads with food. Healthy, fresh fruit and vegetables are down right expensive. Large food companies entice consumers with fancy packages filled with GMO's, preservatives, additives, and chemicals known to cause bodily harm with the trade off that they cost far less than naturally grown, sun kissed fruit and vegetables. As a food nation we have veered off course. Eating seasonally and sustainably seem like catchy liberal phrases rather than common sense. So many Americans find themselves choosing between a $1 hamburger and a $1 tomato. Seems like a ridiculous choice, but for many it is the reality. 

Getting back to basics, and eating what the season can deliver is as simple as filling a container with soil, dropping in some seeds, watering regularly and delighting in watching nature's gifts grow. Limited urban space? No problem. New potatoes grow in a recycling bin, tomatoes in a stock pot, and lettuces on the window sill.

For those with a bit more area to grow food, think about growing a kitchen garden. From the 16th century courts of English kings, to the modern French countryside farmers, a kitchen garden has provided a miniature growing plot designed to provide all-season access to herbs, vegetables, and fruit for hundreds of years. Creative souls add a bit of ornament: aesthetically pleasing shrubs, perennial flowers and annuals for brilliant pops of color. The kitchen garden is first utilitarian and second, but for many just as important, a joyful place to watch the earth do what it does best--provide nourishment for the body and soul.





From the 16th century courts of English kings to the modern French countryside farmers, a kitchen garden has provided a miniature growing plot designed to provide all-season access to herbs, vegetables, and fruit for hundreds of years.


The kitchen garden can be designed to showcase the artistic abundance of English garden sensibility with flourishing natural elements that exaggerate variety and quantity. English style kitchen gardens emanate rustic charm with an organic intimate appeal, every square inch tumbling and overflowing. Or, the kitchen garden can be a reflection of a geometric sensibility such as the medieval knot garden in which plants are chosen and cultivated to look like patterns in rugs or tapestries. The former is ruled by variety and the latter by repetition. Either includes plants showcasing color and form appropriate for maximizing the growing season. It can also be a combination of both or simply a utilitarian reflection that emphasizes little more than production.  The French have their informal potager gardens which use flowers and herbs for a romantic kitchen garden centered on vegetables and fruit trees planted near a fence edge, or a wall with flowers, strawberries and herbs overflowing at the tree's base. Colorful pots are often filled with mint (an invasive, albeit wonderful plant that must be contained) and flowers for design interest.

Height is a gardener's friend. Peas, pole beans, and tomatoes need places to cling and grow upward. A simple teepee of bamboo works for all, or if space allows, a gorgeous A frame of bamboo and chicken wire creates a year round visual impact. A low profile fence and some chicken wire keep Peter Rabbit and his friends and family from nibbling on the veggie cornucopia. Using reclaimed wood or lost and found branches is an inexpensive way to enclose a small kitchen garden area.


growing greens

There are no rules on how to grow a kitchen garden. Hints and inspiration help guide the process. For some, cut flowers are important. For others it is food function driving the planting. A well thought out kitchen garden, however, takes advantage of what is space is available and what will grow well horizontally and vertically given the plot's location.

Lettuces, arugula, and kale prefer early and late season planting, growing to full size in a couple short weeks. Fairytale eggplant and zucchini take a bit longer to grow but once they begin, they continue bearing fruit until the first frost. Do pick them when small--ideally four inches for the eggplant and six to eight inches for the squash. Picking them young keeps the bitter inner seeds from growing and makes the flesh sweeter and the skins easier to digest.

Strawberries have a short growing season but these red jewels are the kitchen garden's first of the season fruit. Perennials, they grow and spread and make a delightful ground cover year after year while adding yellow centered white flowers and sweet fruit that add visual impact early in the growing season.

Growing tomatoes may be the most rewarding experience of most kitchen gardeners. Magically, tomatoes vines grow up to 8' tall and the sun kissed fruit is pure ecstasy. Tomatoes need sunshine and a trellis (unless the tumbling pot variety is all space affords and every bit as wonderful an option) to grow so plant in an with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily.

from field to feast