A kitchen garden is a particular type of garden including edible fruit, vegetables, and herbs. Evidence of kitchen gardens, or potagers appear in European history, particularly in Britain and France.
What is a kitchen garden? Have you ever wondered how to plant, tend, and use one? Or felt curious about how it differs from a regular vegetable garden, a potager, or a victory garden? If so, here's what you need to know.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Definition of a Kitchen Garden
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of a kitchen garden is "a garden in which plants (such as vegetables or herbs) for use in the kitchen are cultivated."
This doesn't sound so very different from the traditional homestead vegetable garden that we tend. As we try to secure our food supply, we grow vegetables and herbs aplenty.
However, when I looked into it a bit further, I found some pretty distinct differences.
Like a traditional vegetable garden, this type of garden includes fruits, vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers. And it does provide fresh, local produce to use when cooking from scratch.
However, that's where the similarities end.
Note: in researching this post, I was surprised at the number of posts in 2021 about victory gardens. My American mother-in-law remembers growing a victory garden with her siblings and mother during World War II in Michigan.
Basically, the government encouraged families to grow their own food wherever and however they could. That way the food suppliers could focus on sending food to the troops if families back home focused on feeding themselves.
So in a way, victory gardens were a "modern" version of the kitchen variety of gardens from long ago Britain and France.
The Difference Between Kitchen Gardens and Regular Vegetable Gardens
Both kitchen and traditional vegetable gardens provide vegetables, herbs, and/or fruit. However, you'll find some distinct differences between the two.
Firstly, kitchen variety gardens are smaller. Secondly, they usually appear "prettier" than traditional backyard gardens. And thirdly, garden planners prioritize planting these gardens close to the kitchen door.
Three Main Characteristics of Kitchen Gardens
The three main characteristics of kitchen gardens are location, size, and appearance.
One of the main characteristics of these gardens is accessibility.
It should be easy to grab the items you need to your prepare your daily meals. Therefore, a potager should be located as close to your food preparation area as possible.
Imagine you are in the middle of preparing dinner when you suddenly realize “this marinade could use a little more rosemary.” Rather than trek out to your main vegetable garden while you have pots simmering on the stove, wouldn’t you rather be able to reach right outside your door to snip a couple of sprigs?
With this type of garden, you'll easily grab what you need in the middle of cooking.
Small Gardens for Veggies and Herbs
These gardens are usually smaller than traditional gardens because they are situated so close to the house. This isn’t always the case, of course, but having a culinary garden close enough to offer easy access while you are cooking may limit the amount of space available.
If you only have limited space available to plant a small garden, here is a good rule of thumb to consider: A regular vegetable garden is about planning for the future, while a kitchen garden is about enjoying today.
Therefore, the fruits and vegetables you plan to preserve for future use - or crops, such as corn, that take up a lot of space - are good choices for a traditional vegetable garden where space is at less of a premium.
Instead, kitchen or potager gardens normally overflow with produce or herbs you prepare and eat while fresh. Containers of fresh herbs, compact cherry tomato plants, or an assortment of leaf lettuce varieties all make great additions to a potager.
No space for a traditional garden? A small potager will keep you in fresh, delicious produce all season long. Or try growing these 7 best herbs for indoor gardens.
These Gardens Are Beautiful!
While a standard vegetable garden is all about utility and production, part of the charm of a kitchen or potager garden comes from its ornamental aspect.
Due to its proximity to the house, a kitchen garden is harder to tuck out of sight than a traditional garden. Therefore, they are often designed to add a sense of beauty to your home, as well.
Some herbs, such as lemon thyme, can be used to create a beautiful and fragrant border around plants and containers.
Edible flowers, such as violas and daylilies, can be incorporated to add a splash of color. Compact blueberry shrubs are also highly ornamental and make a wonderful, yet functional border.
Related: Homemade Food Gifts From the Kitchen
Why Grow a Kitchen or Potager Garden?
Not everyone has the space for a large vegetable garden. And if you're serious about becoming more self-reliant and growing more of your own food, this could be one answer. (Or you could also consider planting a cinder block garden using these methods.)
If you have limited space and want a garden that's more ornamental than a typical backyard garden, this could be a good choice. However take note, it might not meet your requirements if you prefer a low-maintenance vegetable garden.
What to Plant in a Kitchen Garden Right Now
Depending on your location, you could start a kitchen garden right now.
If your last frost date has passed, you could plant any of the seeds or seedlings that typically grow well in your area. First, find out which hardiness zone you're in.
Next, plan your garden. And you'll find no need to stick to straight rows when you plant a kitchen garden. Mix in your vegetables, flowers, and herbs in a pattern that fits the space and that you find pleasing to look at.
Also, keep in mind that certain flowers can help deter pests. And others could attract pollinators. Always a good thing in a garden.
What to Grow in a Kitchen Garden for Food
Select herbs, vegetables, fruit, and edible flowers that suit your growing zones AND your family's tastes. There's no point in growing a bumper crop of parsnips if no one will eat them. (Ugh - parsnips.)
Given the small space, I suggest avoiding things like corn or even potatoes in a kitchen garden. Instead, plant things that remain compact or grow up a trellis. After all, you could always grow potatoes in a box or crate.
What to Put in a Kitchen Garden Window Box
No place for a kitchen garden in a backyard? No worries. Even if you're apartment homesteading and ready to garden, you have options. Simply apply the kitchen garden principles to window boxes.
Try planting the following in a kitchen garden window box:
- Leaf lettuce
- Cherry tomatoes
- Grape tomatoes
- Small peppers
Kitchen Garden Seeds
Looking for the best types of seeds for a kitchen, potager, or victory garden? Seeds of the herbs or vegetables mentioned in the window box section would work.
Or you could try something that we do. Whenever we need to buy vegetables at the market, we try replanting our seeds.
Sure, not all of them grow, but many of them do. We've had luck with squash, pumpkin, and pepper seeds. We also save tomato seeds for replanting next season.
As you can see, a kitchen garden offers both convenience and beauty in a compact space. The best part is it doesn’t take much to get started.
All you need is a couple of large pots, some fresh herbs, your favorite compact tomato plant, and lettuce varieties and you’ll be on your way!
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