START BY BRAINSTORMING DESIGN
If you want to create a garden that’s as beautiful to look at as it is productive, embrace the idea of growing vegetables in a decorative, multiple-part planting within a fenced or walled space. The first step for this is to think outside the box and let your mind wander freely over all the other geometric possibilities. Picture a square one with high trellises or semicircular island beds, or one further divided into pie-wedged beds, or even a quartet of rooms.
RAISE YOUR BEDS
Once you’ve imagined the shape possibilities of your space, consider the dual concepts of “raised” and “multiple” bedding plans as the interior design ideal. Gardeners today find that raised beds heat up faster in spring, adding days (or even weeks) to your growing season. Raised beds allow for far easier soil amendment, too. Build up a bed twelve or eighteen inches above path grade, and you can fill it with the ideal mix of organic topsoil and other amendments.
Beds built no broader than four to five feet, separated by paths, will allow you to reach into the middle of each bed without stepping into it. This keeps you from ranging through your seedlings, compacting the soil and crushing plants underfoot.
PLANT A TAPESTRY
Once you have multiple raised beds around you, you can plant just as you would a decorative flower border. Think about height and texture and leaf form and foliage color. Think of contrast and juxtaposition and vegetables that will reward you with flowers.
We suggest you start by planting a layer of perennial softscape: a quartet of box balls or a border of boxleaf honeysuckle to ensure evergreen interest. Then add the “upholstered” plants: the handsome brutes you can rely on all season to fill their space. Corn and tomatoes. Peppers, eggplants, and leeks. Artichokes and cardoons. Celeries and chards. Then the handsome, early-season “furniture”: carrots, beets, lettuces. Kales, cabbages, and greens. And the later-season accessories, like beans, okra, squashes, and melons. Then on to the fall crops: more lettuces and brassicas and leafy greens. There is no right answer or right mix, and every season you can mix and try new combinations. Amazing, right?
THINK ABOUT TRELLISES
Many vegetables need your support, and this is another chance for you to elevate your kitchen garden beyond the merely functional. Pole beans, cucumbers, and winter squashes climb tuteurs. Tomatoes grow best with trellising or caging.
Remember that height is one of the great aesthetic opportunities of the potager, and all of these forms, from a classic bamboo tepee to an imposing central gazebo, can be visual delights. In almost every instance, you can see that if you approach essential tasks with an eye on invention and creativity, the results will be as lovely as they are practical.
5 SIMPLE CHANGES TO TRY
Try any of these easy alterations to your vegetable garden, and you’ll add to its visual appeal.
1. Think outside the rectangle: Rebuild your plots into circles, triangles, or octagons.
2. Frame it finely: Just as the right frame enhances a painting, attractive materials beautify your raised beds. Naturally rot-resistant cedar weathers nicely.
3. Mix + match: Combine vegetables with flowers, herbs, and shrubs, as well as birdbaths, sundials, or your favorite decorations.
4. Embrace different shapes: Plant in patterns, and your beds become a quilt of colors, shapes, and textures.
5. Be creative with your trellis: You can build an eye-catching structure out of bamboo or look for unique uprights at estate sales and the like.