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veggie garden design

Veggie Garden Design

Growing vegetables has become a serious undertaking in the era of Covid-19. While vegetable gardens need to be practical and productive, that doesn’t mean they can’t also be beautiful, fun to be in and creatively satisfying. Veggie garden design options for a productive garden are endless, from traditional vegetable garden layouts to elegant formal potagers, a mix-it-all-up approach, raised built beds, square-foot gardens, vertical veggies and permaculture-inspired keyhole beds and eco-circles.

Before deciding on a veggie garden design, find a site that meets most, preferably all, of the criteria for growing vegetables successfully.

  • Vegetables need sun to thrive, at least six hours of sun daily. In winter, full sun is best and in summer, morning sun and afternoon shade. With not enough sun, vegetables aren’t as productive, are easily weakened by pests and are more likely to suffer from fungal diseases.
  • An accessible water point, for regular watering.
  • As close as possible to the kitchen, for easy harvesting.
  • Shelter from draughts or wind, which dry out or chill plants.
  • As level a site as possible, although a slight slope helps with drainage. Steep slopes can be terraced, but construction is costly.
  • Fertile soil that drains well. This is the least important factor because soil can be easily improved, or raised beds built to compensate for poor soil.

Veggie Garden Design Options

Once the site has been identified, the creative process can start. There are two basic styles for veggie garden design: formal and informal. Take time to decide on the style and get inspiration from magazines or from browsing the web.

A formal design has a central axis, with straight lines and geometrically shaped beds (rectangular, square or triangle). Paved or stone pathways establish the ground plan, which can be accentuated by arches. There is usually a focal point; a birdbath, bench or container grown shrub.

The advantages of this design are:

  • Everything is accessible, for easy working and harvesting.
  • It is the best style for raised, built beds or terracing.
  • Because of its strong design, the garden always looks good, even between seasons.
  • Generally, one kind of vegetable is planted in each block, but with a border of companion herbs.

An informal design has more flowing lines, with curved beds and walkways. It may feel more exuberant and natural, especially if flowers are added to encourage pollinators. Accessibility could be a problem unless stepping-stones are used for entry into the beds, or keyhole beds are made.

The advantages of this design are:

  • It needs less initial structural work, making it quicker to establish and more affordable.
  • It is usually easier and less costly to maintain.
  • It is easier to change, especially as time goes by and needs change or the surrounding garden changes (more shade etc).
  • It lends itself to mixed cropping and companion planting.

A mix of formal and informal design can accommodate keyhole beds, eco-circles, square-foot gardens and mandala gardens. They generally combine the benefits of both formal and informal gardens and they maximise space.

  • A mandala garden incorporates fruit, vegetables, herbs and companion planting. The circular design may be very formal with geometric beds, built pathways and central features (fountain, fruit tree). A more informal design may use keyhole beds which allows you to stand in the centre and work with the vegetables without standing on the soil. This prevents it from becoming compacted and its structure destroyed.
  • Eco-circle design consists of a single 1m diameter circle or three 1m diameter circles that connect but don’t overlap to form a clover leaf circle. This is a useful style for square spaces. A 20cm diameter pot with drainage holes is sunk in the centre of each circle and vegetables are planted about 15cm from the pot. The veggies are watered by filling the pot with water, which drains out at root level. This is a water-wise garden that also allows for natural pest control through companion planting.
  • Square-foot gardens are 1m x 1m, further divided up into a grid with each block corresponding roughly to the size of a foot. This provides enough space for 9 – 16 different crops, so companion planting and diversity are easy to achieve. The benefit of this bed is that you tend to sow what you need.

Putting Pen to Paper

There is no right or wrong way to lay out a veggie garden (I think). It can be drawn to scale or simply be a free-hand drawing. Whichever way, pace out your design on site, marking out beds and pathways. Flour or maize meal works well to indicate the lines. Even the most experienced landscapers admit that paper-perfect designs start to change when the garden is being made. The final part of the design is to fill in a detailed planting plan showing the exact position of each crop, including herbs.

  • Before you do this consider the following:
  • Make a list of veggies that are easy to grow, that the family will eat and that are nutrient rich.
  • Be aware of the mature height of vegetables so that taller growers do not block the sun for shorter growers.
  • Consider growing climbing or vining vegetables on trellises against boundary walls.
  • Leave space for succession planting.
  • Whatever the design, bed width should not be more than 1m or 1.2m. Kneel down and extend your arm. The point at which your hand joins your wrist should be the centre of the bed. This means that you can work comfortably in the bed. (Physically go and do it!)