Books: Designing the New Kitchen Garden

Although I recently warned readers away from the book Food Not Lawns, due to its lack of real gardening information, I did find a book that contains the sort of thing you might like to know if you are planning to convert your lawn to food production. Designing the New Kitchen Garden: An American Potager Handbook, by Jennifer Bartley, is full of colour pictures and garden plans for formal, attractive food gardens that would not look out of place in your front yard.

The book starts out with some fancy-plantsy kitchen gardens from huge chateaux in France (Versailles, for example), then describes several modern potagers that are less royal in scope, complete with photos. The author lists several things to consider when designing your own decorative, productive vegetable garden, illustrated by photos of the potager at her own house. She then describes the ways in which vegetables and herbs can be used to accomplish design goals, with specific examples, such as alternating rows of purple and green basil to provide contrasts. 

The book provides several garden plans: a sample Italian-themed kitchen garden, two urban potagers for public spaces, her own suburban garden, a small edible garden for shade, and a perennial edible garden, including plant lists. It also includes a sample four-year crop rotation scheme. Although the plans might not be appropriate for your space, she does include some detail about how she arrived at the designs, giving you ideas about how to adapt them for your own use. Unfortunately for northern gardeners, many of the perennials mentioned are only hardy to USDA zone 5, but most shrubs and roses could easily be replaced with hardier varieties, while many of the herbs could be overwintered by mulching or bringing indoors for the winter.

Although this book contains very little general gardening information, there is a good set of instructions for how to build a seed-starting shelf with growing lights. There are also good lists of fast growers for filling temporary gaps in the garden and shade-tolerant plants.

There are two weaknesses in this book. Although the author specifically says not to make beds more than 4 feet across (so you can reach to the middle), many of the plans seem to include beds or boxes that are five or six feet across, including beds against a fence that can only be tended from one side. The designs also are not focused on getting the best food production from a space, as the emphasis on symmetry sometimes places attractiveness over practicality. However, the plans don't have to be followed exactly, but they do provide a great place to start when planning your own formal kitchen garden.

1 comment:

  1. Ouch! That is just painful to see. I am no expert pruner, but yeesh. Are you going to take it and its Frankenbush brethren out for good?

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