Years ago, vegetable gardens were tucked away in backyards where their long rows and practical plantings could be hidden from the neighbors. Today, food gardens are a point of pride for many gardeners and are placed wherever there is enough sun to grow healthy vegetables, herbs, and fruits. Garden design has also changed, with many growing their edibles entirely in containers, vertically on walls, or in raised beds. To help you grow a productive and beautiful kitchen garden, we’ve collected some of our favorite edible garden design ideas.
The Basics of Edible Garden Design:
In my second book, Groundbreaking Food Gardens, edible garden design is celebrated with fun plans and ideas from 73 awesome garden experts. While I was writing the book, I was also taking notes for the changes I wanted to do in my own 2000 square foot vegetable garden. And, the following spring, I started a complete renovation of my growing space. We turned low, free-formed raised beds into sixteen-inch tall hemlock-edged beds. The beds are arranged in a symmetrical pattern with enough space between them for comfortable working and passage for a wheelbarrow.
Before you break ground on your new food garden or upgrade your existing plot, put some thought into what you want your garden to look like and how large it will be. Keep the following three considerations in mind; size, location, and soil.
- Size – If you’re new to vegetable gardening, start small and grow just a handful of crops. A small raised bed is easier to maintain than a large garden and will give you a chance to flex your gardening skills without feeling like the garden has become a chore. Once you’ve had a season or two of gardening under your belt, you can always add more beds, containers, or expand your growing space.
- Location – Good site selection is another important consideration. Most vegetables, herbs, and fruits need at least eight to ten hours of sunlight each day in order to crop well. This is especially important for fruiting crops like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash. That said, gardeners with less light can still grow veggies, but you’ll need to stick to shade tolerant food plants like Swiss chard, spinach, and lettuce.
- Soil – You’ll also want to pay attention to your soil as healthy soil is essential for healthy plants. In a new garden site, a soil test kit will reveal what nutrients need to be added to the soil, as well as whether the soil pH needs to be adjusted. In my Northeast region, our soils tend to be acidic and I need to add lime to my beds each autumn. I also feed the soil with plenty of chopped leaves, compost, aged manure, kelp meal, and various other soil amendments in spring and between successive crops.
5 Edible Garden Design Ideas:
Raised Beds – We love growing food in raised beds. In fact, one of our experts, Tara, wrote a best-selling book on gardening in raised beds called Raised Bed Revolution. We’re partial to raised beds because of the many benefits, which Tara details in this post. For me, I love the early spring warm up of the soil and that my 4 by 8-foot and 4 by 10-foot beds are the perfect size for mini hoop tunnels that allow me to harvest homegrown vegetables throughout winter.
My twenty raised beds are made from untreated local hemlock, as shown in the photo below, but you can use many different materials to make raised beds. Amy has used concrete cinder blocks and Tara likes to up-cycle old items likes this metal washbasin. If using an item like Tara’s washbasin, be sure it has good drainage or you’ll have to add some drainage holes to the bottom.
Obelisks – Old fashioned bamboo teepees are a traditional way to grow climbing crops like pole beans, but adding something a bit more formal, like a metal obelisk or bean tower can elevate a simple veggie patch to a stylish potager. Vertical structures also add visual height and interest to the garden. I also love when I visit a vegetable garden and they’ve painted their vertical structures in bold colors. A black metal obelisk (like the one in the photo below) is timeless, but it’s also fun to play with bright hues like red, blue, or even purple! It’s YOUR garden, so if you want to add color to your structures, grab a paint can and get busy.
Tunnels – When I rebuilt my vegetable garden a few years ago, I added three tunnels for vertical crops like pole beans, cucumbers, cucamelons, and other vining vegetables. My tunnels are very simple and are made from 4 by 8-foot sheets of concrete reinforced mesh panels that are attached to the wooden raised beds. The tops of the tunnels are secured with plastic zip ties and there are two wooden spreaders at the top of each tunnel to help maintain the structure shape as the plants grow. The tunnels have become a focal point in my edible garden, and it’s a place where everyone loves to sit on a hot day – I often bring my laptop up to the garden to write under the shade of the tunnels with the bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
Containers – I have a large vegetable garden, but I still use containers in my edible garden design. Pots of fragrant herbs and compact vegetables are tucked among my raised beds, and they’re placed on my super sunny back deck. In this space, heat-loving peppers and eggplants thrive and yield an earlier crop than then the plants in my vegetable garden. Most vegetables and herbs can be grown in containers, so don’t be afraid to experiment with a variety of crops. If you are gardening in containers, you’ll definitely want to check out this comprehensive tip list that details everything you need to know about growing food and flowers in pots.
Food gardens aren’t just about the veggies and herbs. I also include berries and fruits in my landscaping and around my vegetable garden. If you don’t have a lot of space, you may want to try growing dwarf berry plants in containers. The key to success is to pick the right varieties and plant them in good-sized containers filled with a mixture of high-quality potting soil and compost.
A Decorative Edge – Sometimes the most subtle elements of a garden make the biggest impact. In the below photo, a wooden raised bed was transformed with the addition of a low wattle edging. The edging serves no practical purpose but it adds a natural detail that fits in well with the food plants. This edging was made from clipped willow branches, but other materials could be used for a similar border. I also like to use compact vegetables and herbs to dress up a garden edge. Lettuce, curly parsley, compact kale, bush basil, Lemon Gem marigolds, and mounding nasturtiums all make excellent edging plants.
More edible garden design ideas:
What are your plans to add style to your edible garden?
Carole Coates says
Your garden is just beautiful, Niki. While I want/need to put most of my gardening energy, time, and money into raised beds, good soil, and actually growing things, it’s been fun to add a few whimsical and other decorative touches. It makes the garden such a fun place to work. By adding just one or two elements a year, I’m hoping to have a real showstopper one of these days!
Niki Jabbour says
Thank you so much Carole! And I completely agree – your idea of adding one or two decorative elements every years is so smart. Thanks for sharing the tip 🙂 – Niki
Gorgeous gardens! I’m curious how you keep deer and other critters from grazing on those lovely edibles…
Niki Jabbour says
Hi Lisa.. If you look very closely at the pic of my tunnels, you’ll see some strings along the back of the garden – that is my electric fence. I used to use deer netting, which works fine in a small garden, but in my large space they were always jumping over it. So I went electric a few years ago. But, we do have a great post on deer on Savvy Gardening – https://savvygardening.com/deer-proof-gardens/. I hope that helps! Niki
Chef Markus Mueller says
I have a cold frame in the garden already( planting lettuce this weekend!!!), but am planning on adding 2 raised boxes and a garden tunnel this year. I’m hoping it won’t be as hard to do as I imagine..I want to plant cucumbers to climb the tunnel and have a dedicated tomato box haha. We’ll see what happens! Love your ideas here though! Slowly but surely I keep expanding my vegetable garden every year!
Chris T Anderson says
Thank you so much for all the amazing ideas. I may not be a professional gardener, but I am a fan of science and I worked on my dirt for a year before I even put anything in. I love gardening and I keep looking around for that perfect dirt, from scratch recipe (ex. Like iron, nitro, magnesium , calcium, carbon proportion). Just like cooking I want to do it all from scratch. Any advice, for the tomato variety raised bed, 5 × 10.