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kitchen garden basics
Published November 21, 2023 by Nicole Burke

What Is a Kitchen Garden?

Filed Under:
kitchen garden
kitchen garden revival
raised gardens
raised kitchen garden
raised vegetable garden
Nicole Burke in kitchen garden with harvest

The Difference Between a Kitchen Garden & a Vegetable Garden

When you picture a garden designed for food production, you may see row after row of corn, dozens of tomato plants, and probably a ton of back-breaking work.

And while that is a garden, that's not really representative of a kitchen garden. Not the rows and rows, not the digging and endless work. That's more of what I call a vegetable garden, a veggie patch, or a row garden.

Those types of gardens are great, but for many of us, they're just too much.

Too much work.

Too much land required.

Too much of one food to even think of eating!

So, if that's what you're picturing when you hear the word garden, it could be what's holding you back from taking the first step to call yourself "gardener." You've been mislead to believe you're either a farmer clad in overalls with a hoe permanently in hand, or you're a plant killer.

The good news is, there is a garden setup for people in between who want to grow some (but not all) of their own food. Enter the kitchen garden.

a raised bed kitchen garden

What is the importance of a kitchen garden?

The kitchen garden is a small-scale version of the vegetable garden that enables you to experience the magic of growing and enjoying some of your own herbs, greens, and vegetables, but that gives you the convenience of requiring just a few minutes or hours of your time each week.

The kitchen garden allows you to garden in order to live a better life—not garden to live or even necessarily live to garden.

It's more than possible to fit a kitchen garden into an already busy lifestyle and make gardening an ordinary part of your daily or weekly routine.

The five components that, when considered together, define a kitchen garden are:

  • Size
  • Location
  • Tending
  • Purpose
  • Beauty

Let's look at each of these.

stairstep raised beds in a kitchen garden

The Four Components of a Kitchen Garden

Kitchen Garden Size

A kitchen garden is relatively small, ranging from 25 to 250 square feet, while a farm or vegetable garden could be huge and sprawling, with thousands of square feet of growing space. A kitchen garden is really just a portion of your outdoor space that's set aside for the specific purpose of growing food for your kitchen. I've actually installed kitchen gardens that were just 4' x 4' beds, so 16 square feet of growing space. We've squeezed kitchen gardens into the thin strip of space between driveways and fences, so believe me when I say you do not have to get rid of all your grass to have a kitchen garden.

Even a small kitchen garden can produce lots of leaves, roots, and fruit. Growing in raised beds with trellises allows us to pack in the plants and maximize every square foot of growing space.

small kitchen garden

Kitchen Garden Location

Because you'll be harvesting from the kitchen garden often—just before meals, as you pack lunches in the early morning, or while making an herb topping for dinner—you'll want the kitchen garden close by. In fact, right outside your back door is ideal.

When I first started my kitchen garden design business, some of my clients would ask me, "Can you put the garden behind the garage or something?" Most people think of a vegetable garden as something that needs to be hidden away. Well, that's not the case at all for kitchen gardens.

Farmers and row croppers might be okay with their plants being a long way away from their home, but it's proximity to the house that matters for us kitchen gardeners.

(Learn more about choosing the best location for a kitchen garden.)

kitchen garden in backyard

Kitchen Garden Tending

Because you're picking from it regularly, you're also tending it too. The kitchen garden is designed to be lightly tended on a daily or weekly basis. This isn't heavy lifting, just a little pruning here, a little planting there, again and again throughout the growing season.

That's quite different from a row garden or farm situation, where massive quantities of plants are planted at once, harvested at once, and processed at once. It even differs from homesteads. Instead of harvesting all my tomatoes at once, I might come out one day and take a couple and then return the next day for more. We do everything—planting, tending, and harvesting—a little bit at a time in the kitchen garden. The idea is to have frequent and continuous harvests from a revolving door of plants.

tending a kitchen garden

Kitchen Garden Purpose

The kitchen garden exists to feed you, to help you relax, and to give you a constant source of discovery. Think of it as an extension of your living room, your gym, or your yoga mat.

It's a place to go to unwind from the day and awaken all your senses. You'll hear bees buzzing and birds flying overhead; you'll feel the wind, the soft leaves, and the tender flowers; you'll smell the sweet marigolds and peppery arugula and summery basil. And of course, you'll taste the incomparable flavor of just-harvested greens and tomatoes and all things vegetable, and you'll never be able to look at produce from the grocery store the same again.

Because the purpose of the kitchen garden is not to make money or produce a gazillion tomatoes for canning, we often focus on planting a diversity of plants in the space. We're going to have herbs and leafy greens and root crops and fruiting crops all planted together in one bed so that we can harvest them and enjoy them fresh.

a thriving kitchen garden

Kitchen Garden Beauty

The kitchen garden is really set up to be a beautiful part of your landscaping. Now, I'm not saying that a farm or row garden can't be beautiful because they can, of course. But a kitchen garden is especially created to be desirable place to hang out, because we want you to get into that kitchen garden as often as possible.

I'm on a mission to reframe the way people see vegetable garden, and I carry out this mission by creating beautiful kitchen gardens for my clients. If you're ready to create your own kitchen garden, keep aesthetics in mind. Your garden will, after all, be close to your home. You certainly don't want it to be an eyesore. You want it to be the place you're most proud of.

The goal of homesteads and farms is productivity, but with kitchen gardens, we aim to create a space that's both productive and beautiful.

what is a kitchen garden

Kitchen Garden Plants

What is grown in a kitchen garden?

A kitchen garden is a space to grow herbs, leafy greens, root crops, and fruiting plants for everyday use inside the kitchen, plus some beautiful (and oftentimes edible) flowers for the pollinators.

Rather than grow a lot of one thing, I like to grow many different types of leaves and veggies in my raised bed kitchen garden so that there's always something to harvest, to take inside and enjoy right away. 

kitchen garden harvests

herbs

Here are some of my favorite herbs to grow in my kitchen garden:

grow herbs in a kitchen garden

leafy greens

Here are some of my favorite leafy greens to grow in my kitchen garden:

spinach harvest from raised bed

Root Crops

Here are some of my favorite root crops (and tubers) to grow in my kitchen garden:

harvesting carrots from raised bed kitchen garden

Fruiting Plants

Here are some of my favorite fruits to grow in my kitchen garden:

tomatoes growing on an arch trellis in a kitchen garden

Flowers

Here are some of my favorite flowers to grow in my kitchen garden:

calendula flowers in kitchen garden
Read More About Kitchen Gardens

Kitchen Garden Essentials

The four structures of a kitchen garden

There are four main structures of a kitchen garden that I discuss in my book, Kitchen Garden Revival:

  • Raised garden beds
  • Trellises
  • Borders
  • Pathways

Raised beds

Raised beds allow you to provide the most ideal growing conditions for your plants without having to spend years amending the soil where you live. Read more about why raised beds are better for gardening.

Shop Our Cedar Raised Bed Kit

Gardenary's new line of quality cedar garden beds are easy to assemble and will provide years of gardening enjoyment.

Trellises

Trellises provide essential support to climbing vines, improve the overall health of your garden space, and maximize your total available growing space. When your garden is covered in snow in the winter, trellises provide vertical interest.

Explore different types of trellises and the benefits of each for your outdoor space.

raised bed and trellis
Shop Gardenary Trellis Kits

Borders

Borders help to make your kitchen garden a distinct area of your outdoor space, in addition to deterring weeds.

kitchen garden designed by Rooted Garden

Shop Our Favorite Edging for Kitchen Garden Borders

Edging is our favorite way to distinguish the kitchen garden space. Our Gardenary Edging is easy to install, weather-resistant and maintenance-free.

Pathways

Pathways ensure you can easily access and walk around your kitchen garden, which is important considering you'll be tending your kitchen garden regularly. You don't want to go outside to harvest some basil, only to step in mud, right?

Learn more about different types of garden pathways.

garden pathways

Kitchen Garden Layouts

What are the different types of kitchen gardens?

I describe five tried-and-true designs for kitchen gardens that my company Rooted Garden uses again and again in Kitchen Garden Revival. Your space and gardening goals will determine which layout is best for you.

The five classic garden layouts are:

  • Border Garden
  • Twin Garden
  • Garden Trio
  • Four-Garden Classic
  • Formal Potager

Let's look briefly at each of these layouts.

powder coated steel raised beds

border garden

Border gardens can fit just about anywhere (along a driveway, next to a pool, against a porch, even down that awkward space between your home and your neighbor's fence) thanks to their small profile.

A border garden allows you to enjoy all the benefits of a raised bed kitchen garden in whatever space you have.

Explore more elegant border gardens we installed for Rooted Garden.

border garden

Elevate your backyard veggie patch into a sophisticated and stylish work of art

Kitchen Garden Revival guides you through every aspect of kitchen gardening, from design to harvesting—with expert advice from author Nicole Johnsey Burke, founder of Rooted Garden, one of the leading US culinary landscape companies, and Gardenary, an online kitchen gardening education and resource company.

twin gardens

So many good things come in pairs, including these raised beds. Twin gardens appeal to our love of symmetry and allow you to maximize your growing space. I love using arch trellises to connect the two beds and amp up visual appeal.

twin kitchen garden beds in cedar

Shop This Trellis

This trellis, made of steel and powder-coated in black for durability, is the epitome of modern elegance.

garden trio

There's the rule of three in interior design for a reason, right?

This garden layout is ideal for long, narrow strips or spaces that are roughly circular in shape. If your garden space is longer than it is wide or if it’s more circular and curved, a garden trio may just be a perfect match. 

Learn more about garden trios.

garden trio with stone raised beds

four-garden classic

This design is perfect for large spaces that are square or nearly so in shape and at least 15 feet wide. Each of the raised beds in this garden layout are the same size, typically 4 feet, 6 feet, or 8 feet long and 2 to 4 feet wide. We often design raised beds to be rectangular for this classic layout, but we've also had spaces where we felt squares worked best.

Read more about this classic layout.

arial view of garden

formal potager

A formal potager is like the Rolls Royce of kitchen gardens. It's a garden that adds additional features like fountains, fruit trees, seating areas, etc., in the room-like space created in the middle of four L-shaped raised beds.

Discover more about this beautiful layout here.

formal potager garden

The Benefits of a Kitchen Garden

Because a kitchen garden doesn't have to be huge or require intensive tending, I'm convinced there's a way for just about everyone to have some form of a kitchen gardengrowing a little of their own food for the experience and joy of adding small harvests to their everyday meals.

A kitchen garden, to me, is representative of many of the small pleasures in life. Come to think of it, my kitchen garden is my favorite part of my home. It makes cooking so much more fun and gives me a spot to "get away" in my own backyard.

With four kids and my own business, I don't have the energy or time to tend a row vegetable garden at this stage in my life. The kitchen garden affords me all the benefits of gardening without the back-breaking work or hassle.  

If you're on the fence about starting a garden, I hope this distinction gives you insight and encouragement that you don't have to live like a farmer in order to have a garden. The kitchen garden really is possible for all of us, and I'm excited to grow with you in your own gardening journey this year. 

raised bed kitchen garden in corten steel

Ready to get started with your own kitchen garden?

No matter your lifestyle, your outdoor space, or your gardening ability, there's a kitchen garden that works for you.

Here at Gardenary, we've got all the resources you need to design, build, plan, plant, and tend your own kitchen garden. You can:

read more about kitchen gardens

My first book, Kitchen Garden Revival, walks you step by step how to plan, design, install, and fill your very own kitchen garden.

contact a garden consultant to help you

Search our business directory to find the garden coach nearest to you. This person will be an expert in kitchen gardening in your particular area, which makes them an invaluable resource for beginner and intermediate gardeners.

cedar raised bed

Whether you're ready for a small container herb garden or a full kitchen garden with four raised beds, don't grow alone. We're here to help you make gardening an ordinary part of your daily or weekly routine.

Thanks so much for growing with me!

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What Is a Kitchen Garden?