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.
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 four components that, when considered together, define a kitchen garden are:
Let's look at each of these.
Kitchen Garden Size
A kitchen garden is relatively small, ranging from 25 to 250 square feet, while a vegetable garden could be huge and sprawling, with thousands of square feet of growing space.
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.
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 backdoor is ideal.
(Learn more about choosing the best location for a kitchen garden.)
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.
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.
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.
Here are some of my favorite leafy greens to grow in my kitchen garden:
Start a free trial of our membership program, Gardenary 365, to watch our video series that walks you through planting and growing your own salad greens for at least six months of the year, no matter where you live.
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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
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.
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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.
Borders help to make your kitchen garden a distinct area of your outdoor space, in addition to deterring weeds.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
Shop This Trellis
This trellis, made of steel and powder-coated in black for durability, is the epitome of modern elegance.
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.
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.
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.
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 garden—growing 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.
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.
work with a virtual kitchen garden designer
We have designers who can view your space over video and design a garden for you based on your location, outdoor layout, and gardening goals. In addition to the design, you'll get garden bed dimensions and materials needed to complete your new kitchen garden, a shopping list, installation details, information about your growing seasons and plant recommendations for each season, and garden tending tips.
Watch an online garden design course
We've just released a brand-new garden design course called Build Your Dream Garden. We'll walk you through how to measure your space, determine the best location, and source materials for your dream garden.
Want a step by step guide for designing and installing your very own beautiful and productive kitchen garden? Start a free trial of our membership program, Gardenary 365, to check out our newest course.
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!