8 Tips for Kitchen Garden Designs
It was well known that Thomas Jefferson loved to grow food as well as eat his vegetables, and sent his chef to train in France to prepare his favorites: sprout kale, and black salsify, Lima beans, Patty Pan squash, and okra, that became a prime ingredient for a thick Gumbo soup. He savored tomatoes while in France, and was one of the first American gardeners to introduce seeds to other gardeners in the states.
The gardens at Monticello once contained 330 varieties of vegetables and herbs comprising ninety-nine species. Not only were they fully productive gardens, they were also elegantly designed. Thomas Jefferson became a passionate gardener late in life, and meticulously organized his vegetable garden at Monticello, a seven hundred foot field carved into the side of a hill, as a basic rectangle divided by a series of paths running crosswise
Grow a bit of history in your kitchen garden with favorite heirloom seed varieties popular more than a century ago, and follow these 8 tips for successful kitchen garden design based on the gardens at Monticello.
1. Love Mulch. Cut back on water while keeping the roots cool, mulch provides protection from summer heat and prevents weeds. Look for a natural material that won’t interfere with the plants: straw, salt hay, or chopped leaves are all good options. Plant tightly, to keep the soil shaded.
2. Conserve Water. Consider installing drip irrigation before planting this garden to give the plants water directly to the roots. Plan to cover the plastic tubing with the mulch, to drip feed at the roots instead of wasting water with an overhead sprinkler.
3. Save Seeds. Allow the most robust plants to mature to seed pod stage, collect the pods and save the seeds. Plants develop seed pods at different times, and often the plants will need to be isolated from others of the same species for pure seed retrieval. Find a good resource to learn more about the details of how to success-fully save seeds, such as Seed Savers Exchange.
4. Natural Paths. Mulch the paths with bark, straw or simple gravel, to keep the weeds packed down, and the design formal. Allow enough width between the beds to fit a wheelbarrow and to walk two by two.
5. Elegant Tudors. In keeping with the elegance of Monticello, select a more formal style Tudor style painted white or black for growing the tomato and pole beans running down the center of the garden.
6. Planter Boxes. At Monticello, lemon and lime trees are grown in planter boxes, and then brought indoors for the winter. Planter boxes can be made or bought, to introduce and reproduce an historic element into the garden. Paint them the same color as the Tudors, to keep a consistent look.
7. Create Order. Design the garden in advance, the way THomas Jefferson did, to make sure that it fits an aesthetic and architectural style.Drawing from the great gardens of France, the Chateau d’Versaille and Villandry, orderliness is essential to keeping the gardener and the garden tidy and efficient.
8. Keep a Garden Journal. We may not want to keep as many details as Thomas Jefferson, yet gardens are fleeting, and it does help to look back on weather, germination success, and other observations to improve your gardening techniques.