Our current environment is creating a new self sufficiency movement. Here we share how to get the basics of your new vegetable garden right first time.
Every year we get enquiries from people who are a little bewildered by the complexity of planning their first vegetable garden and don’t know where to start. Some are looking for a 'quick fix' – some way to magically come up with the perfect plan for their garden. Others are prepared to spend time but find the plethora of possible combinations of plants and layouts confusing. With that in mind, here's our best advice in the form of principles to follow when producing a good plan for a new vegetable garden - particularly in these times where self sufficiency is once again in the headlines.
When planning a vegetable garden it’s all too easy to jump in with both feet and try to grow as much as possible in the first year. Many experienced gardeners will tell you that this is just setting yourself up for disappointment as the amount to learn, maintain and weed can quickly become overwhelming. Far better is to make a list of your favourite vegetables and narrow it down to the ones that taste best fresh or cost a lot to buy in the shops. Plan to create a few vegetable beds each year, expanding as you become confident and find the timesaving shortcuts that work for you. Defining good paths (using materials such as woodchip and weed suppressant fabric) will pay back many times over in the time saved maintaining them.
If the area you are going to use for your vegetable garden is new then the next decision is what style of garden and planting system you would like to use: raised beds, traditional rows, square foot gardening etc. In general it’s a good idea to define garden beds 4 feet (1.2m) wide and as long as you want them to be with a 2 foot (60cm) path between them. This is about as wide as you can go before it becomes uncomfortable to lean into the middle of the bed (you’ll appreciate this when weeding) without treading on the soil (best avoided as it compacts the soil structure). If you have children around then it’s useful to clearly mark the edges and building raised beds is a good way to do this (also good if you have heavy or waterlogged soil as they drain well.)
Many different crop layouts can work for a particular garden space and there will be far more variation in the harvest due to factors beyond our control such as weather and pests than in whether leeks should be placed next to carrots. Although some gardeners swear by complex companion planting systems the main principles that have been proved to work are summarised as:
With these general principles in mind here are my recommendations for placing plants in a new vegetable garden:
An Art or a Science
Gardening is both an art and a science and it’s that tension that is at the root of the confusion for many new gardeners. There are scientific principles that need to be followed – overcrowding plants or growing in poor-quality soil will set you up for failure. In subsequent years the principles of crop rotation will add more constraints. However, that still allows for a lot of different possibilities and the art is in placing plants in a way that makes best use of your space without breaking any of the rules.
It’s worth remembering that these aren’t a hard and fast set of rules. The art is in using these guiding principles to design something that’s uniquely your garden and, with experience, that becomes a very satisfying and enjoyable process.