Now is the perfect time to plan a kitchen garden to grow your own vegetables, fruit and herbs. There is nothing better than using the freshest ingredients for the kitchen table, straight from your own garden. Homegrown produce is tastier, healthier and can cut your food bills. In fact, growing your own in a kitchen garden is becoming so popular that sales of vegetable seeds are overtaking those of flowers.
There are many ways to grow your own vegetables. You could plant them in a traditional potager (kitchen garden), mix them in among the flower beds, grow them in a dedicated vegetable garden, or on a smaller scale in patio containers.
Read on to find out how to plan a kitchen garden to grow healthy, homegrown crops, and get inspiration for your own kitchen garden design from some beautiful kitchen gardens, below.
For more advice and inspiration check out our garden ideas, feature.
- If your kitchen garden is part of a new garden design then be sure to check out our advice feature.
How to start a kitchen garden
Early spring is an ideal time to begin creating your vegetable garden plot, but you can start planning well ahead.
Decide on the size of the plot you would like. Make sure you keep to a size you can manage. A large vegetable garden with room to grow everything will take a lot of work, both preparation and maintenance. A smaller plot with dwarf varieties, or produce mixed in among flower beds, or planting in containers would work better if you don't have much time for gardening.
The best position for a kitchen garden
To achieve the best results when growing fruit and vegetables you need:
- An open, sunny spot - preferably one that gets the morning sun, and around six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily. To grow quickly and well, vegetables need as much light as possible, so track the sun throughout the day to see where shadows fall. If you don’t have these conditions, there are some crops that tolerate shade, such as cherries, blackberries, raspberries, rhubarb and blackcurrants.
- Wind protection is important. A permeable barrier, such as a picket fence, hedge or windbreak can filter its effect.
- Soil enriched with compost.
What should you grow?
Grow what you love to eat, and as much as you need. Make a list of your favourite edibles, including herbs, and consider those that are more expensive to buy. Include different varieties of vegetables you enjoy, then look carefully at your space and growing conditions and narrow your selection.
Aim for a succession of crops throughout the seasons, with small, successive plantings every couple of weeks for a year-long harvest.
It is worth tracking down organically grown seeds and plants. Conventionally grown plants are already often loaded with pesticides and chemical fertilizers. See our guide to the best online garden centres.
A kitchen garden is a great opportunity for growing organic. Find out how to grow an organic garden in our guide.
How to get the best value from your kitchen garden
- Grow high-value crops.
- Minimise your time, space and money while getting the maximum results.
- Aim for increased yields, plus improved taste and value compared with shop-bought produce.
- Growing from seed is the cheapest option and the most rewarding way of growing your own crops. Swap seeds with family and friends.
- Choose crops that are expensive to buy compared with growing them yourself – for example herbs, such as mint, sage, thyme, parsley and rosemary. These are easy to grow and you’ll be able to harvest them fresh for up to nine months of the year. Many herbs are perennial and will keep coming back year after year. Find more advice on how to plant a herb garden.
Get more gardening advice from Period Living Magazine
- Select high-yield crops that take up little space. Tomatoes are high maintenance and need lots of watering and feeding, but they grow vertically and produce lots of fruit. You can also grow different varieties to those available in stores – from tiny yellow cherry tomatoes to large black varieties.
- Grow crops that taste better fully ripened and fresh from the plot, such as strawberries.
- Homegrown salad leaves are a cheaper alternative to bagged ones from the supermarket – and less wasteful. Sow cut-and-come-again varieties every few weeks for a succession of cropping.
- Swiss chard is easy to grow, prolific almost all year, and isn’t readily available in most supermarkets.
- Fruit trees will yield well once established and if short on space try cordons or espaliers against a sunny fence. Choose varieties that aren’t usually found in supermarkets.
Preparing soil for a kitchen garden
To get the best homegrown crops from your kitchen garden you need to make sure your soil is up to scratch. It's useful to test the pH levels of the soil in your vegetable garden to help you select crops to suit it. Soil testing kits don't cost much and are readily available online. Soils are generally on a spectrum from clay to sand and can vary from place to place within your garden. All soils will benefit from the addition of organic matter to retain moisture and nutrients.
Clay soil needs breaking up and takes longer to warm up so suits later crops. Light soils are good for early vegetables but need large quantities of manure and compost to avoid water draining away too rapidly. The ideal soil is loose, crumbly loam, which absorbs and holds water and nutrients, is well aerated and drains freely.
Types of beds in a kitchen garden
Raised beds, filled with a loamy soil from a local garden centre, are ideal for growing small plots of vegetable. They are a good option if the soil in your garden is not good quality. They provide good drainage, increase soil temperature, prevent soil compaction. The sides of the bed prevent soil washing away in heavy rain and act as a barrier to pests, such as snails and slugs, as well as pathway weeds.
You can buy ready-made raised beds for your vegetable garden, or make them yourself. Follow our step by step guide on how to make raised beds.
Wooden planks or old railway sleepers look good and are often used to create vegetable beds. Brick or stone surrounds are long lasting, while woven willow looks rustic but will need to be replaced about every six years. Timber beds should be lined with black polythene to keep the timber dry and extend its life.
Kitchen garden layout options and features
Every plot is different, so work out the best design for your space and needs. There are no rules to creating a kitchen garden.
You can mix vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers, including edible varieties, in a tapestry of colours and shapes. You can grow them in segregated rows or blocks, or as an ornamental potager, in a geometric pattern of your choice.
Unless crops need special protection, it can be helpful to mix the plantings, as a large area of a single crop attracts pests, and the mix of different edibles and ornamentals confuses them. It is helpful to draw the design of your vegetable garden on paper first before marking out or planting.
Include access pathways, and keep in mind that beds need to be a size you can reach into easily for weeding, planting and harvesting. Don't have long grass or dense flower borders directly next to the plot as these can harbour slugs. A path makes it easier to spot and dispatch the pests.
Make best use of the vertical space, too. Grow climbers, such as peas, beans and cucumbers up tripods and frames, along with nasturtiums to attract blackfly away from crops, and sweet peas for added colour and scent. Include companion plants that attract beneficial insects, such as marigolds and daisies.
Fruit trees are a wonderful addition. Espaliers, cordons or step-over trees can be very effective In small spaces.
Use our guide to growing a living wall or vertical garden for tips on creating yours.
Sowing and planting a kitchen garden
Seeds are the lowest cost but if you don’t have a greenhouse (see our buyer's guide) or propagator and want a more instant result, plug plants are a good option.
A combination of plants and seeds may work best; you can have seed trays inside on a windowsill, then pot on seedlings into the garden. Many vegetable seeds can be sown directly in situ once the soil warms up.
Plan a programme of small, successive sowings and plantings every couple of weeks for a yearlong harvest. Edge plots with contrasting plants, including herbs and flowers, which will mask bare spots as the season progresses.
After harvesting, use fast fillers, such as chervil or cut-and-come-again salad greens. These self-sow and can be moved easily to fill gaps when required. Fast-growing green manures are ideal: both mustard and phacelia are tough as well as beautiful in flower.
In February, you can start sowing choices such as broad beans, peas, carrots, onions, the first potatoes and salad crops under cloches. You can’t beat Swiss chard and perpetual spinach that will crop for a whole year and throughout winter. Salads can also be grown year round, and many of the most expensive to buy at the shops, such as rocket and baby leaves, are the easiest to grow.
Other easy to grow edibles include tomatoes, potatoes, beetroot, courgettes, garlic, onions, squash, strawberries, chives and mint. Vegetables, fruit and herbs can look beautiful, so be proud of your bounty.
Vegetable gardener's calendar of jobs
- Use organic controls as the first pests appear
- Continue sowing seeds as the soil is warmer
- Plant herbs in ground or pots
- Keep on top of weeds
- Sow tender vegetables under cover, such as courgettes, marrows and beans
- Plant leeks, brassicas, celery
- Continue succession sowings of salads and herbs
- Sow French beans
- Harden off plants started off in the greenhouse
- Plant out tender veg seedlings
- Put straw around strawberries and net from birds
- Hoe weeds
- Remove side shoots of tomatoes and feed weekly
- Mulch and feed asparagus
- Thin out apples, pears, plums
- Cut back foliage and remove runners from strawberries once they've finished cropping
- Net soft fruit
- Cut down early peas and broad beans after harvesting
- Lift and harvest new potatoes
- Continue sowing salads
- Prune blackcurrants after they have been harvested
- Mulch squash and water well
- Sow Oriental pak choi and Chinese cabbage
- Remove finished crops and replace with quick- growing salads
- Sow overwintering onions
- Prune summer fruit
- Continue sowing Oriental veg, herbs and salad
- Sow winter lamb’s lettuce, cress and endive
- Pinch out top of tomato plants
- Harvest squash and sweetcorn
- Begin harvesting apples and pears
- Dig up potatoes when they finish flowering
- Stake or earth up sprouts and brassicas to help them stand during winter
- Harvest squash before frost
- Lift and store potatoes
- Dig over soil
- Plant garlic and broad beans
- Cut back artichokes and remove sweetcorn plants
- Clear the soil
- Harvest leeks, artichokes, celery, parsnips and the last carrots and beetroot
- Net brassicas
- Dig over bare soil incorporating compost
- Prune grapes and fruit trees
- Order seeds and get supplies while sales are on
- Clean pots ready for sowing
- Harvest final sprouts, cabbages and leeks
- Start to chit potatoes
- Complete your digging
- Inside, sow seeds such as onions, tomatoes, peppers and celery
- Cover rhubarb plants with forcing pots
- Plant fruit trees when the soil is not frozen
- Cover soil to warm for sowing
- The main month for sowing many crops, including brassicas, leeks, parsnips, peas, spinach
- Plant asparagus
- Plant out the first potatoes, onion sets, garlic, shallots and artichokes
- Fertilise fruit and vegetables
Kitchen gardens to visit
West Green House Gardens – Imaginative, ever-changing creative potager displays. Near Hartley Wintney, Hook, Hampshire RG27 8JB
West Dean Gardens – Restored walled Victorian kitchen garden and glasshouses, with heritage and new vegetable varieties. West Dean, West Sussex PO18 0QZ
Pashley Manor Gardens – Decorative home kitchen garden. Ticehurst, East Sussex TN5 7HE pashleymanorgardens.com
Attingham Park – Late-18th-century kitchen garden, two acres of glasshouses and Georgian bee house. Atcham, Shropshire SY4 4TP
Audley End House & Gardens – Organic walled kitchen garden, with over 120 apple and 60 tomato varieties. Saffron Walden, Essex CB11 4JF
12 essential kitchen garden plants
- Salad leaves – and lettuces are easy to grow from seed in the ground or containers, and give a high yield – find out more on how to grow lettuce in our guide. Cut-and-come-again salads give a succession of leaves, from five to eight weeks after sowing – an economic alternative to expensive salad bags in shops and much fresher and tastier. They like fertile, moisture-retentive soil. Sow more every four to six weeks for a continuous supply.
- Tomatoes – are easy to raise from seed from March on a warm windowsill with plenty of light, or buy plants from your garden centre in May. They need nutrient-dense soil. Sun-ripened tomatoes from your garden will beat the taste of any you can buy. ‘Bush’ tomatoes are the easiest as they don’t need to be staked or trained and grow happily outside in pots, hanging baskets or grow bags. Find out more on when to plant tomatoes in our feature.
- Beans – are good yielders and use the vertical space rather than taking up ground level space. Easy to grow from seed, water them well and harvest regularly – the more you pick, the more the plant will produce. Broad beans can be sown direct into the ground in March or April. Sow French, borlotti and runner beans at the end of May/early June, for a harvest 12-14 weeks later. An added bonus with scarlet runner beans is that the vibrant flowers are also edible.
- Carrots – Sow early carrots under cloches in February, or wait until March or April in the open. For sweet, small carrots, sow every few weeks from early spring to late summer for a successional harvest from June to November. They like light soil, with plenty of organic matter dug in with full sun for early varieties, or some shade for main crop varieties. Carrots can also be grown in containers and raised beds; thin out the seedlings in the evenings, firming down the soil to help prevent carrot fly. Water when the weather is dry.
- Potatoes – Plant chitted seed potatoes in the ground or containers – early varieties in late March and main crops in April, ready to harvest in 10 to 13 weeks. They grow best in fertile, slightly acidic loose soil, and need regular watering. For advice on when to plant potatoes be sure to read our guide.
- Beetroot – is easy to grow from seed, in the ground or a pot. Sow directly into the soil in April to July, in medium to light, neutral to slightly alkaline soil that has not been recently manured. Keep well watered and weeded. Round varieties will be ready to harvest from 11 weeks. Golf ball size are tender and delicious and the leaves can be used as an alternative to spinach or in salads.
- Chard/silverbeet – Easy to grow, sow chard in spring, keep well watered and add liquid feed regularly. It often grows over a number of years as a perennial. Rainbow varieties add the wow factor whether in neat rows on the plot or mixed among garden flowers. Try ‘Bright Lights’, ‘Rainbow’ or ‘Ruby’. A great addition to stir-fries.
- Apples – Bare-root fruit trees can be planted from November to March. Self-fertile trees will produce fruit without the need of another tree to pollinate it. Soak roots, then plant in a sheltered, sunny position, ideally in well-drained sandy loam soil. In a small space, train them against a wall or fence as an espalier. You can also buy espaliered trees in pots at garden centres throughout the year. Water well for the first few years and expect to harvest in a couple of years, depending on the variety. Even small gardens can have apples as step-overs, espaliered, on arches, or columns in containers.
- Gooseberries – Easy to grow, there are many gooseberry varieties. Autumn is an ideal time to plant bare-rooted bushes in a sunny sheltered spot. Prepare the soil by forking over and adding compost or rotted manure and fertiliser to the planting hole. Mulch and water well until they are established. Thin out in late May/early June,and use these first fruits for cooking. The second harvest, a few weeks later, will be sweeter. Net bushes or grow in a fruit cage.
- Currants – Bare-rooted white, red and black currants are available for planting between October and March. Easy to look after, once established they will remain productive for about 15 years. Plant in well-drained soil, with added well-rotted manure. A sunny, slightly sheltered spot is best, but they will grow in part shade. They will fruit from the second summer, but need training, pruning and feeding for best crops.
- Strawberries – For a tasty and decorative treat, grow some strawberries in a hanging basket. Plant in April for a summer harvest. Place five or six plants in a basket, and water daily during the growing seasons. Feed from flowering to harvest time with a product high in potassium.
- Calendula – These quick-growing hardy annuals work well en masse or to edge productive beds as a companion plant to attract beneficial insects. Easy to grow in most soils they will do their best in rich, loose soil in full sun. If grown organically, add the tangy flower petals to salads.
How to grow vegetables from scraps
If you're looking for ways to reduce food waste, you'll like this. First the bad news: many of us put waste veg scraps in the bin, assuming that, unlike evil plastic, they'll decompose quickly and cause minimal harm to the planet in the process. Unfortunately it's not quite that simple (when is it ever?).
In fact, unless you're taking part in your local council's food waste scheme, – which properly composts leftovers – or if you know how to make compost – very well done indeed – your food waste could actually be harming the planet by releasing unnecessary amounts of methane into the environment.
But rather than letting this revelation get us down, we've found a solution that will not only keep veg scraps out of landfill, but could save you money in the long term.
That's right, the Brabantia Tasty+ Herbs and Vegetables Regrow Kit, £21.52, does exactly what it says on the tin, allowing you to regrow selected herbs and veggies from their scraps. Pretty cool, right?
And even cooler when you discover that it's more than possible for a lot of super popular veggies, including celery, cabbage, bok choi, beets, turnip, romaine lettuce, leek, spring onions, lemongrass, avocado pit, garlic sprouts, carrot top (green), parsnip top (green).
All you need to do is pop your scraps in the base of the regrow kit, which should be submerged in water. Place the kit in a sunny spot and keep an eye on the water levels every few days. After a few weeks, you should notice some growth, at which stage you can transfer your veggies to a plant pot – but all of that is explained within the kit.
A great way to reduce your food waste, give growing your own a go, or embark on your own science experiment, this is a super fun kit that we can't wait to test drive.
Bountiful kitchen gardens to inspire your project
Planning a kitchen garden? Traditionally, these gardens were separate from formal parts of a house’s outdoor space and often in a walled garden to protect the produce from harsh weather and scavengers. Potagers, or ornamental kitchen gardens, were popularised during the French Renaissance, with edible and non-edible flowers planted alongside vegetables, and the gardens laid out in a pleasing and practical way. Use these real gardens to inspire your scheme.
1. An old vicarage with a kitchen garden
Set within a three-and-a-half-acre country plot, this garden is filled with a glorious array of plants with different colours, scents and flavours in late summer, which would inspire anyone to grab their trowel and start growing their own food with enthusiasm.
Within the garden, owner Sandra Blaza operates a system of crop rotation, so that each main group of vegetables – brassica, potatoes, onions, root vegetables, and legumes – is grown in a different spot each year. Striking half-standard gooseberry and currant bushes mark the corners of these vegetable beds. This unusual way of growing and training soft fruit adds height and structure, and shows off the fruit to great effect.
Find out how to choose the right plants for your garden with our advice.
2. Traditional cottage garden in Hampshire
Among the relaxed planting of this traditional cottage garden in Hampshire, there is a beautiful terraced kitchen garden. Sweet peas, alstroemeria and foxtail lilies add colour and thrive alongside an old clump of delphiniums. In the lower beds, the homeowner Penny grows soft fruit, blackberries and raspberries, while broccoli, onions, parsnips, beans, potatoes and lettuces make up the vegetable beds.
If you’d love to transform your our outdoor space into a cottage garden, take a look at our expert advice on how to create a cottage garden.
3. Floral family garden
While this is mainly a family garden, owner Joanne Winn has developed a productive kitchen garden that is her private area to withdraw to.
It is a sunny patch, with raised beds containing vegetables and soft fruit, and there is a small greenhouse. This is Joanne’s favourite spot, where she’s most likely to be found, even in the depths of winter. ‘It’s my haven, I suppose. I love its calm serenity and feeling of enclosure,’ she says.
Find out how to choose the best greenhouse in our guide.
Herbs, potatoes, onions and salad leaves thrive in the secluded little patch, whilst a beautiful calendula plant acts as a companion, bringing in insects and wildlife to keep the kitchen garden producing.
Follow our advice on how to create your own luscious wildlife garden. And, did you know that if you grow organic you'll be helping wildlife too?
4. A bluebell wood with a productive garden
The owner of this garden, Barbara Jeremiah, is the Liveryman for the Worshipful Company of Gardeners, so it is no surprise that her kitchen garden is outstanding. A raised fruit bed and vegetable plot offer a variety of produce, and are backed by espaliered ‘Charles Ross’ and russet apple trees.
For advice on how to prune apple trees be sure to read our guide.
‘Part of this garden is set out in a chequerboard design using old square bricks that were made here hundreds of years ago,’ says Barbara. ‘These are filled with herbs such as parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, chives, fennel, lovage, chervil, mint and curry plants. I put mint, parsley and tulips in pots, as it’s easier to look after them, and the tomatoes in a small greenhouse.’
5. Bountiful artist's garden
In late summer, artist Lizzie Smith’s garden is at its best, with a cornucopia of vegetables in raised beds ready for harvest, billowing flowers to cut and the herbaceous beds filled out with golden Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’, Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ and Cynara cardunculus, or cardoons.
‘Our wish was to develop a productive, beautiful and creative garden for our family, friends and wildlife to enjoy being in and eating from. We have six children between us, so the garden is a great source of fresh vegetables and flowers, with lovely places to be in,’ says Lizzie.
The variety of produce is impressive, from herbs such as mint, rosemary, thyme and parsley at the front door, to tactile Cavolo Nero mixed with ornamental Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ kept in check in the woven-edged beds, or ripening Victoria plums heavy on the bough. There is something edible in nearly every corner of the garden.
The garden has two main areas for vegetables, with large rectangular beds, along with the more tender offerings of chillies and aubergines in the polytunnel. ‘Tomatoes are our favourite vegetable and we grow ‘Black Krim’, ‘Marmande’, ‘San Marzano’ and ‘Costoluto Fiorentino’.’
6. A kitchen garden with contemporary touches
The kitchen aspect of this garden isn’t the most obvious part. In fact it is used to punctuate the relaxed and colourful traditional planting scheme. Neat rows of salad and root vegetables sit between repeated box-balls and have all been hand grown by home owner Heather Scott from seed.
If modern garden ideas are a little more up your street then we have the perfect feature for you.
The tiny greenhouse is home to Heather’s young potted plants and vegetables, before they can graduate into the main garden, to complement the beds.
Find out how to choose traditional garden plants for your outdoor space.
7. Family garden in the Essex countryside
Having created a beautiful garden for her family, Victoria Inglis turned her attention to creating a small potager outside their potting shed, which is enclosed in woven hazel fences. ‘My husband and three children are quite “foodie”, so we enjoy cooking at home with our own produce. Raised beds made from wooden planks are filled with salad leaves, rhubarb, beans and root vegetables,’ says Victoria.
Choose the very best garden shed with the help of our buyer's guide.
To finish off the kitchen garden, Victoria extended the small eating area on the south-easterly corner of the potting shed, and built a pergola, creating the perfect outdoor dining area to complement the productive kitchen garden.
We have more beautiful outdoor dining spaces for your to browse.