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Garden Layout Lessons

Last winter, after spending many years reading books on the subject, I finally redesigned my main vegetable plot. Having a rectangular garden divided into four big quadrants by grass paths leading north, south, east and west simply didn’t work for me anymore. The main problem was that I had to step into the beds to weed, inadvertently trampling plants, and getting my shoes and clothes muddy in the bargain. So I played with the layout on my computer, trying various schemes. I wanted to keep the plot the same size and shape (approximately 20 feet by 60 feet) with the main paths intact, since they led to the four gates. But I wanted to narrow the beds, so I could tend the plants without stepping onto the soil. Then it occurred to me that I could design a vegetable garden the way I would a decorative garden, with multiple beds laid out symmetrically as in a parterre.

In the end, I hit upon a layout that divided the garden into two rows of eight beds, each about six feet wide, with paths in between. Within that setup, I added two diamond-shaped areas with a decorative bean tuteur (a stand that helps beans grow as topiaries) rising from the center of each, which I modeled on ones I had seen at Grey’s Court in Oxfordshire, England. I also decided to slightly raise the beds, using six-by-six-inch timbers that I made into frames and filled with soil and compost. Instead of growing grass, which would require mowing, I spread pea gravel to create paths.

Suddenly, my kitchen garden was as lovely as my decorative gardens. The new design highlighted the architecture of the beds, paths and trellises as well as the juxtapositions of color, texture and form. The deep red stems of Bright Lights Swiss chard played off the golden orbs of lemon cucumber. The pale stone of the gravel paths made the blues, greens, reds and golds of the plants more brilliant. And it all made the act of gardening immeasurably more pleasurable.

Published August 2001
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