The Kitchen Garden
Dreaming of succulent vegetables, fruits bursting with sweetness and juice, redolent herbs to spice up the cooking pot? Like many before you, a kitchen garden may be just what the doctor ordered, literally. With today’s emphasis on healthy eating of fresh fruits and vegetables, at least five to nine servings are recommended, what better inspiration than growing your own?
Walking out your door to harvest sun ripe tomatoes, snap beans, or a garnish of parsley could satisfy your eye and your palate The kitchen garden is the dressed up version of the homely, but indispensable vegetable patch of our forebears in an earlier America. They have some truly enviable garden design possibilities.
Kitchen gardens are traced back in time to the Middle Ages when a large garden to produce food for the castle and estates was necessary. I have an inkling, however, that it dates quite a bit further back in time than that- as Romans and other ancients were quite fond of their gardens containing delicious produce for their dining tables.
‘Fine fruit is the flower of commodities.’ It is the most perfect union of the useful and the beautiful that the earth knows. Trees full of soft foliage; blossoms fresh with spring bounty; and, finally, fruit, rich, bloom-dusted, melting, and luscious.
- Andrew Jackson Downing
The kitchen gardens of old transitioned into English Cottage gardens and French potagers, we Americans kept the vegetable patch and physic gardens of colonial times until style pundits such as Wm. Robinson, Gertrude Jekyll, and Andrew Downing coaxed us into a more romantic style that resulted in the vegetable garden moving discreetly from front or side yards to the backyard. Traditions that hold onto the older styles, such as Amish farmyards still retain the feeling of the old colonial garden with neat rows of vegetables and flowers cropped near to the house, often in the front yard.
It has been opined that the kitchen gardens fell out of favor with the rise of grocery stores which made fresh produce easily available, with only a few revivals during wartime when ‘Victory Gardens‘ were promoted as a patriotic duty, as well as for family health. Perhaps today’s need for nutritious fruits and vegetables with good old fashioned taste will lead to a more long lasting resumption of the home kitchen garden. It takes skill to raise good produce, but the results are well worth the effort and time.
How to Create a Kitchen Garden of Your Own
Today’s kitchen garden will probably contain many contemporary uses for the space instead of anything like the display at one of the most famous of kitchen gardens, Château de Villandry (which is disputed as being like any of the kitchen gardens of the day). Nevertheless, the kitchen garden is to be seen. Whether it is a rim around the lot filled with espaliered fruit trees underplanted with strawberries or herbs, or whether a large vegetable patch including a cut flower space, the main thing is to provide a culinary harvest. A continual supply of fruit, flowers and vegetables all for provision and decoration of the dining table. The requisites for this are
Besides these three ‘musts’ you have a great deal of leeway in arranging your space. Most of these gardens in former times had a wall enclosure, and it is still a good idea to protect your plants from the likes of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny; some barrier against wind is welcome, also. Some protection from wind will make your space friendly to pollinators such as bees. Hedges, walls, and fences are all candidates for the job. Location close to the house would afford a microclimate with even more protection and some captured warmth, south, south-east or south-west-facing ensures the maximum amount of sunshine.
Being right outside your kitchen door is the epitome of the idea of this type of garden: imagine yourself stepping outside for a fresh salad all made with your own lettuces, tomatoes, and slices of crunchy green peppers! If you are picturing something large enough to hold a cold frame or a small green house, those would be traditionally a part of the kitchen garden space. It might extend your garden season.
You might want to try "lasagna gardening" to easily build up rich soil for your vegetable beds.Lasagna Gardening 101 can start you off, or really dig into it with Patricia Lanza’s book,Lasagna Gardening
The tradition of raised beds is making a comeback for gardeners for many reasons, easier to get ready for the new season and preserving soil tilth. If you are going to use a tiller every year you need a flat garden, but if you have a small space that will stay fairly permanent then raised beds of soil are an option. I have tried these at different junctures of my gardening career here in my home, and the important thing with raised beds is to keep them replenished with soil and to keep them well weeded. Weeds love the pampered conditions as much as your favored plantings. Raised beds can provide a neat appearance and that lends itself well to the goal of making this a food garden that is a pleasure to the eye as well as to the palate.
Using a combination of flowers and vegetables is a way to incorporate companion planting for organic techniques and healthier plants. Some plants can do double duty if they are edible, such as the lovely nasturtiums. Monet used them along his walkway,sprawling plants that bear bright citrus colored blooms cheerfully all summer and have round luminously green leaves, both of which can be eaten . They are a bit peppery in flavor. Used as a “catch crop” for aphids, it is a good idea to wash them thoroughly before eating- to make sure no ‘critters’ find their way into your dish!
A kitchen garden is not a perennial garden, as a rule. Vegetable crops are mostly annuals and they need rotation to keep the soils healthy and to give continued nutritious harvests. The usual crop rotation cycle is three-years – in other words you only have a certain vegetable type in the same spot every third year according to Clare Hogan’s article. It is the structure of the garden that gives it its permanence, while the more long lived perennial additions, such as espaliered fruit trees or a strawberry patch and fruit bushes, can find themselves used around the perimeter.
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