Vegetable garden design has traditionally been in long straight rows, intended for ease of cultivation and the ease of harvest.
The good news is this is no longer necessary or even desirable in our smallish urban gardens. (small compared to acres of plants anyway) If you look at more traditional smaller garden or estate vegetable gardens they were planted on several basic ideas. Smaller but somewhat wider beds.
Garden Planning and Crop Rotation: A Simple System
First Design Principle
The first vegetable garden design concept then is to make your garden beds as wide as you can easily reach into to weed and harvest. In my case, I like a 3-foot wide bed or even 30-inches.
I used to use a 4-foot wide bed and garden from both sides but I have gravitated towards narrower vegetable beds because I like the spacing better. It is however more wasteful of space.
Our vegetable garden
Second Design Principle
Which leads me to the second vegetable garden design concept
Use flowers and vegetables in the same beds. The new beds I’m working on will combine both vegetable and flowers for the cut flower part of my garden. This means a wide range of vegetables, annuals, perennials and roses will be grown in the same beds
These are still utilitarian beds however and this is an important point from my design point of view. I know that some garden designers are advocating the use of vegetables as ornamentals in the ornamental flower beds.
There’s a utilitarian notion to the vegetable garden that I resist combining with my thinking of how a flower garden should look. A row of lettuce used as an edging in a perennial bed is utilitarian and initially attractive but it will never replace a row of trimmed lavender.
Treat vegetable leaves and stalks with the same interest we show to flower leaves. We should appreciate the massive flowers of squash and melons as they take over the garden. We can use vegetables such as colored-leaf lettuce around the flower beds but not worry about harvesting them as there is no standard of ongoing ornamental beauty being applied here. Chard has a tremendous range of leaf and stalk colors.
So from a design standpoint, I believe in beautifying the vegetable garden with flowers rather than adding vegetables to the flower garden. But it’s your garden space.
Third Vegetable Garden Design Principle
Which leads me to a third concept. Use vegetable leaves, flowers and fruit in an ornamental manner but do not depend on them for season long interest.
A stump of harvested lettuce is neither ornamental and no longer useful in an ornamental garden.
And the main trick in all of this design work is to learn how to grow your own plants from seed.
Modern commercial horticulture will simply not give you the full range of seeds to produce the leaf colours you want. Growing from seed yourself – sowing directly into the garden – will give you a full range of leaf colours to enjoy and practice combining.
Fourth Design Principle
The last design thought I want to leave you with is to be bold in your planting and layouts. Try things you’ve never done before.
There is a place for ornamental statues, glasshouses and the like in the vegetable garden just as there is a place for them in the flower garden design.
Be bold in those choices and you’ll be able to cover the sins of the plants. (the garden ornaments will attract the eye, taking the eye away from the slug-chomped lettuce, the partially harvest spinach and the flea beetle infested cabbage leaves.) :-