Creative Vegetable and Herb Gardening

May 22, 2010

In her book Creative Vegetable and Herb Gardening, Joy Larkcom offers a contemporary approach to companion planting, juxtaposing vegetables, herbs and wild plants within defined areas of front or back gardens. Her style is based on French potager or kitchen gardens (with inspiration from European walled monastic gardens), and their emphasis on culinary and healing herbs, planted in conjunction with vegetables, soft fruit and fruit trees. Essentially this method of gardening combines organic gardening practices and biodiversity gardening. The aim is to create diverse ‘scenes’ of dense and textured edible planting. This approach to gardening, conserves water (as areas between plants are not bare and dry) and reduces weeds by not offering spaces for them to grow. The complexity of this planting scheme mixes flowering herbs, soft fruit and fruit trees attracting pollination. This planting style also aims to confuse predators seeking out plants of the same type to infest. Another benefit of creative vegetable gardening is low maintenance, as plants tend to grow into each other, both reducing the growth of weeds and creating an attractive ‘edible landscape’.

The photos are examples of this method. This kitchen garden area is growing – sweet woodruff, welsh onions, hyssop, borage, lemon balm, mint, potatoes, thyme, garlic, broad beans, oregano, spinach, tarragon, lamb’s ear lettuce, parsley, lavender, a crab apple tree and two types of green manure fertilising plants (crimson clover and phacelia). The rear of this planting area is supported by a ‘fedge’ a live willow fence which offers protection from wind.

Elements of a Kitchen Garden

1. Site an edible garden close to your kitchen or front door, to facilitate easy access and regular observation of pests, dry soil, and as a reminder to use your herbs and vegetables regularly.

2. Surround with structured boundaries if possible, i.e. an edible herbal hedge (rosemary, lavender, thyme), a series of raised beds, a native fruiting hedge surrounding the garden (elder, hazel, wild plums, wild roses, rowan, crabapples) or weave cut hazel or willow branches around fence posts.

3. Develop a series of narrow beds with paths in between. The paths can be made from grass the width of a lawnmower or wheelbarrow. Bark chips can also be used to separate planting areas. Create these planting areas, approximately one metre wide, so that you can reach across the growing area easily.

4. Plant vegetables, soft fruit, herbs, flowers and fruit trees with an eye for creating patterns and symmetry.

5. Incorporate height (i.e. globe artichokes, bean and pea wigwams, soft fruit bushes and fruit trees), to provide centre pieces for planting areas, while using vertical space as productive space within the kitchen garden.

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