Kitchen Garden Design Ideas
It's true what they say: The best-tasting tomato is always the one you grow yourself. But which tomato to grow? With some 3, 000 heirloom varieties out there—from 'Ananas Noir' to 'Green Zebra'—the possibilities can be downright paralyzing. And that's before you even begin to contemplate other crops. So we turned to the real experts: chefs renowned for their skill with fresh vegetables. Alice Waters, the woman who practically invented the farm-to-table movement, weighed in. As did Peter Hoffman. And Rick Bayless. These slow-food pioneers, as well as 10 of their peers, delivered the momentum—selecting nearly 100 incredible edibles—that set our organic kitchen-garden project in motion.
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Corralling that gigantic plant list into a sensible, stunning plan: CL contributing editor Jon Carloftis, who's designed gardens for Julianne Moore and Jerry Bruckheimer but remains a country boy at heart. Carloftis sited our potager at his alma mater, the University of Kentucky in Lexington, and convinced his mentor, horticulturist Sharon Bale, to lend a hand. The duo divided the 32' x 56' plot into a grid of 12 raised beds, defined by paths edged with marigolds (said to repel pests) and covered in pine straw—an affordable alternative to hardscaping that also gives veggies the acidity they crave. "Every time it rains, acid from the straw is released into the soil, " the designer explains.
Illustration by Michael A. Hill
Other moves that sync with Carloftis's pretty-is-as-pretty-does strategy included birch tepees and a handsome poplar arbor, to support climbers, such as beans, peas, and cucumbers. Barn-wood boxes and recycled bourbon barrels supplied the necessary depth for root crops like sweet potatoes and carrots. And a fence of tobacco sticks, draped with sturdy netting, deterred (most) critters, beautifully. "Structure adds style, " Carloftis declares, "and that's what separates us from Neanderthals."
But, woe, the best-laid plans. Remarkably persistent rabbits, contaminated compost, heavily compacted soil—and what turned out to be Kentucky's second-wettest spring on record—all conspired to wreak havoc. "It was, " says Bale in her matter-of-fact way, "the perfect storm for failure." And yet, come July, when we bit into that first 'Early Girl' tomato, infinitely juicy and still warm from the sun, all was forgotten.
Convinced? Check out these 13 tips for creating a kitchen garden, and soon you'll experience the sweetest satisfaction of knowing I grew this.