Designing Edible Gardens

The information below comes from John Mason's book "Growing & Using Vegetables and Herbs
published by John Mason


Traditionally the home vegetable patch has been restricted to the far corner of the back garden and where it is out of sight, or to the few small herb plants growing on the kitchen window sill. Herbs and vegetables can be very attractive and there is great potential to bring them out of the back corner, and with a little thought given to design, to be used as key features in the ornamental garden.

Thinking about vegetables and herbs this way can open up possibilities within the garden. Brightly coloured kale, lettuce and rhubarb can be used to replace, or grown alongside, flowering annuals in the garden. Plants such as chives and parsley have attractive foliage and make lovely border plants. Traditional ornamental plants can also be mixed with vegetables and herbs to create wonderful harmonies and contrasts.



Through the centuries, vegetables, herbs and other edible plants have been grown in a range of decorative designs. These designs can be adapted to suit today’s gardening styles.
  • Walled gardens – used since medieval times, walled gardens provide a private sanctuary from the outside world. The walls create a sheltered environment, ideal for growing plants that might not survive in more exposed conditions. The walls themselves are an attractive design feature: traditionally walls were built from local stone, but in today’s gardens they are usually constructed from rendered brick. The walls are ideal for growing espaliers.
  • Knot gardens – originating in formal gardens in the Elizabethan era, knot or parterre gardens were arranged in geometric patterns (knots), designed to be viewed from an upper window. The borders of the knots were edged in low, clipped edges and filled with gravel or, less commonly, with massed herbs or flowering plants.
  • Formal vegetable gardens – also called Potagers, the concept of growing vegetables and ornamentals in stylised, formal beds separated by paths originated in France. The beds are usually edged with a clipped low-growing hedge, and often feature standard plants (such as standard roses) or formal topiary plants in the centre of the garden or on the corners of the beds.In some cases, religious symbols were incorporated into the design of such gardens.

Stylish Contemporary Vegetable Garden Design

You might like to include some of the following design ideas in your herb and vegetable garden:

  • Grow a colourful vegetable garden – choose one or two main colours for contrast or harmony and plan for seasonal colour effects.For example, plant parsley borders around coloured foliage vegetables such as kale or a coloured lettuce.
  • Mix vegetables with other plants – in the flower garden, in rock gardens, among fruit trees.
  • Grow espaliered fruit trees – espaliers are plants trained to grow flat along a wall. They look great, they save space, and the wall provides a warm, protected environment for growth and early fruit ripening. Most commonly espaliers are fruit trees, such as apples and pears, but climbers trained on wires attached to a wall are also popular.
  • Use hedging – hedges can be informal or formal, but generally the best hedges for vegetable gardens are multi-functional: they shelter the growing beds, they provide a sense of year-round structure and permanence to the garden, they screen the garden from view, and they give flowers, fruits or nuts. Depending on the climate and garden style, lavender, rugosa roses, rosemary, hazelnuts, lilly pillies and citrus make useful and attractive hedges.
  • Use attractive climbing frames and trellises – there are many different ready-made structures available for supporting climbing plants, or you can make your own. A bamboo or metal tripod is an attractive support peas, beans and other climbing plants.
  • Add a water feature – traditional features such as a timber half-barrel or old-fashioned water pump are often used enhance the vegie garden.
  • Use attractive pots or ornaments as focal points.
  • Train plants as topiary – plants trained and clipped to ornamental shapes add an element of fun to the garden. Clipped bay or citrus trees are well suited as topiaries in the vegetable garden.


Designing a garden using herbs and vegetables, as well as ornamental plants requires careful planning. Designing your own garden can be one of the most creative things you will ever do – a living sculpture that gives you years of enjoyment.

The secret to good garden design is a well thought-out plan. This involves carefully assessing and analysing the site, deciding what you want to include in the garden, then matching your ideas with the capability of the site to come up with a satisfactory garden concept.

The initial plan will help you decide whether you want to devote a separate area of the garden to vegetables and, if so, where it should best be placed for maximum sunlight, proximity to taps and compost bins, and ready access from the kitchen.

Further plans can be made if necessary. If you are planning a new garden, or revising your current layout, you may choose to create individual concept plans for different areas or ‘rooms’ within the garden. Some areas may require more detailed plans to provide information about planting schemes. To effectively build large or heavily constructed landscapes or to install a large irrigation system it may be necessary to have accurate scale plans of the site to ensure that the concept is properly translated into reality. In most circumstances though, the home gardener will not need to go into any great technical detail.

If you intend to design and construct the garden yourself it is also wise to keep the design within your capabilities. Start with a small space and extend once you have gained confidence.

Step by Step – Creating the Concept

Once you have made your site analysis and decided what you want, it will be much easier to develop your plan.

1. Take measurements of the garden. Include buildings, paths, important plants, etc.

2.  Use graph paper to draw a plan of the existing garden features. Make a few copies so that you can try experimenting with different designs. On one copy, include the direction of the sun, the views from the house, location of taps for watering the garden, and any other important information from your site analysis. This will help you see the limitations of the site.

3. Decide upon an overall design style or styles. It could be a cottage garden in the front that includes vegetables, herbs and fruit trees. You may prefer a more formal approach with hedges and knot gardens enclosing vegetables, herbs and ornamentals with topiary as focal points. Alternatively, you could try a bold romantic garden with brightly coloured foliage, grasses, roses and vines enclosing vegetable and herb spaces within an ornamental framework. Or a courtyard garden with traditional plants, herbs, fruit trees and vegetables in pots and raised garden beds. The possibilities are endless. You need to decide what style of garden suits the house, the site conditions and your expectations.

4. Take a long look and try to visualise the garden in your mind. Where do the segments or rooms that make up the different garden areas belong? If there is a semi-shaded area behind the house, this could be used as a fernery and an area to grow shade-loving herbs such as mints and chervil. Other vegetables or herbs of course need a sunny position.

5. With a pencil and eraser use your graph paper to make drawings of possible garden designs. Don’t be afraid to experiment. The idea is to see what will work and what is impractical.

6. Look at the drawings you have made and choose the best ideas. Combine these ideas into one final drawing.


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