What is a kitchen garden?

In its simplest form, a kitchen garden is the space set aside for growing vegetables, fruits and herbs for feeding your family. It can be as small as a few pots on a patio, or as large as your heart’s desire, but it’s a separate area from the rest of the garden, and it’s purpose is to grow food.

raised beds with various vegetables growing in them

History of the kitchen garden

Have you ever been to a historical museum during the warmer months? I think most of us have. At a lot of these museums, you can see workers dressed in period costumes, cooking over an open hearth, with a small garden just outside the door. This garden supplied the household with vegetables and herbs, that would be eaten fresh during the warm seasons and then dried or preserved for the coming winter. This garden was called the kitchen garden, but is also known as the French potager, or a kailyaird in Scotland. Whatever you call them, they were once essential to households, and are slowly making a come back!

Kitchen gardens have been around for centuries. They easily date back to the Middle Ages but have been around much longer. The kitchen garden was highly valued to the ancient Romans, as fresh fruits and vegetables were an essential part of their diet. Later on, kitchen gardens became a staple in English cottages, and the French potagers.

Kitchen garden inspiration

Recently, I visited Tryon Palace in New Bern, North Carolina. Tryon Palace is a replica of the first permanent capital in North Carolina, and was home to Governor Tryon.

Tryin Palace has over 16 acres of gardens, so I was very excited to spend a couple hours leisurely perusing them while visiting family. I may seem off topic with these Tryon Palace musings, but stick with me. I took my time meandering paths and enjoying the variety of gardens. I went by myself, so I could take my time, and fully experience everything (I’m a garden nerd and I’m not ashamed!)

After what was probably 45 minutes of this meandering, I walked through the trees and came to a brick wall with a small opening. Walking through that brick wall, I found myself in the palace kitchen gardens and oh my goodness! I was in love!

The kitchen garden was not only practical, and well-organized, it was beautiful! Coneflowers sprawled out along the edges, and apple trees were espaliered along fences. Clusters of sunflowers smiled at the sun, and roses climb trellises in unexpected places. I fell in love with the kitchen garden then and there, and hope to someday have a version of the Tryon Palace kitchen garden outside my own kitchen door.

What is a kitchen garden?

In its simplest form, a kitchen garden is a garden where you grow vegetables, fruits and herbs for feeding your family. It can be as small as a few pots on a patio, or as large as your heart’s desire, but it’s a separate area from the rest of the garden, and it’s purpose is to grow food.

Kitchen gardens should be a collection of the things a family enjoys to eat. It’s not meant for resale, and although it can be aesthetically pleasing, that is not the intent. Kitchen gardens are an extension of the kitchen, a place for the family to grow, tend, and gather ingredients for preparing meals.

Modern kitchen gardens are typically a collection of raised beds, or containers. The garden is not large, but it’s mighty. A simple 4×4 raised bed is enough to grow lettuces, carrots, beets, onions, and a pepper or tomato plant or two.

Why is the kitchen garden important?

Kitchen gardens are the simplest way to connect people with the food they eat, and eliminate all the middle men. They reduce the pollution of transporting produce over long distances, and they supply a family with fresh vegetables without traveling to the market.

They can also be grown without the use of chemicals and pesticides. Additionally, the vegetables are harvested at the peak of freshness and consumed right away. As a result, the produce has a higher vitamin and mineral content, and is healthier for the family.

Working in the garden has shown to reduce stress levels, and improve health. Gardening is a form of exercise, and counts as light aerobic activity. In combination with sunlight, fresh air, and the nutritious fruits and vegetables, installing a kitchen garden is a huge step towards improving health.

The kitchen garden also reduces the cost of food for a family, and can guarantee their favorite vegetables are available when needed. Seeds can be found for $1-$2 per packet, growing basketfuls of vegetables. Even starter plants, if you’re not ready to grow from seed, can be found for around the same price. As of this writing, bell peppers go for about $1.40 a piece. A $3 pepper plant can yield 5-10 peppers over the summer. That’s a savings of $5-$10, which can really add up in even the smallest of gardens.

Finally, kitchen gardens can be a fun group activity, bringing household bonds together over growing tomatoes. Children especially enjoy helping in the garden! They benefit from the science of watching things grow, and the confidence they gain in helping with a family project. Even teens can benefit from the exercise, sunlight, and tangible rewards for their hard efforts. In my own life, with my own teens, I’ve noticed that sometimes they seek me out in the garden just to “hang out” while I work. Some of our best conversations happen out there, while surrounded by nature and fresh air.

How to create a kitchen garden

Installing a kitchen garden is much easier than it looks! One thing I love about the kitchen garden is how it grows with the gardener. One year, it can be a couple containers on a back patio. The next year, a 4×4 raised bed might be added, and later a couple 4×8’s. It doesn’t have to be complicated or overwhelming!

The first step in creating a kitchen garden is to keep track of what your family consumes. My family loves loves loves raspberries, and they’re notorious for being expensive and hard to keep fresh. They were the first thing I added in our new home, and are my kids’ favorite item to harvest throughout the summer! Keep track of what you like to eat, and compare it to what you’d like to grow. Lettuces, tomatoes, and herbs are great for beginners and can be found in almost any kitchen!

Next, decide where you’d like to set up your garden and how much space you’d like to devote to it. Once you’ve decided on the location and size of your garden, along with what you’d like to grow, it’s time to get started!

You can plant your garden directly in the ground, but I highly recommend raised beds. They drain quicker after rain, the soil is good to go right from the start, and they’re easier to work in.

If you’re local to Southeastern Michigan, we offer DIY raised bed kits or turnkey raised garden bed installations. We can plan and install your bed, and you can have the fun of maintaining it and harvesting from it!

And as always, a garden coach can take you by the hand and ensure your garden is exactly what you want, teaching you the skills to grow successfully for years to come! You can learn more about hiring a garden coach HERE. For those of you in Southeastern Michigan, you can reach Liz at Learn To Grow Gardens by calling 248-602-0881. For areas outside of our service area, you can set up a zoom consultation or find a coach near you by visiting Gardenary.

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to by posting a comment or sending an email to [email protected]!

Happy Growing! 

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