Easy & Best Plants to Grow For Your Kitchen Garden

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It’s a warm, sunny evening. You’re in the kitchen making dinner and realize you need lettuce, green onions, and fresh parsley. 

You head to the door, hover you hands over the car keys . . .  then reach a bit to the left, grab the garden sheers and a basket and take the few short steps to your very own, customized kitchen garden to harvest dinners remaining necessities. 

Note: Every photo in this post is the same garden, it’s simply shown at different times of the year for perspective.

In a world where grocery store trips add up fast, the dream of cultivating a personalized kitchen garden offers a refreshing escape from the consumerism race. Knowing that every ingredient is nurtured and handpicked from your own garden, is a feeling like no other. 

Before we go further, I know you may be wondering, what’s the difference from a kitchen garden and a traditional market or canning garden? Is it simply a garden in a small space? Not really. Let’s break it down.

Different kinds of garden options: 

  • Kitchen Garden: A small, focused garden near the kitchen that typically grows herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers for immediate culinary use.
  • Potager Garden: A French-style kitchen garden that combines both vegetables and flowers in an aesthetically pleasing design.
  • Herb Garden: Specifically dedicated to cultivating a variety of herbs for culinary, medicinal, or aromatic purposes.
  • Vegetable Garden: A large vegetable garden dedicated to the cultivation of various vegetables for harvest and long term storage, including canning. 
  • Perennial Garden: A garden featuring perennial plants, which come back year after year, often including fruits, herbs, and flowers.

A kitchen garden is typically adjacent to a kitchen, and strategically planted and harvested for the immediate enjoyment of fresh herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers. This approach ensures a steady supply of flavorful additions to meals. 

It’s important to note that it differs from a long-term storage garden, where the focus is on growing in abundance for preservation and cold storage.

You’re not growing in bulk in this space. Instead, the kitchen garden operates on a pick-as-you-go principle, offering a continuous supply of fresh produce from spring to early fall. While herbs can be harvested and dried for extended use, the primary emphasis lies in utilizing these ingredients at their peak freshness. 

I know we need to get into what you grow in a kitchen garden, but first, I want to talk about design!

Designing a beautiful kitchen garden

How the Eyes Perceive Beauty

In garden design, understanding how the eyes naturally navigate art is key to creating a pleasing space. Similar to viewing a painting, focal points, achieved through striking plants or sculptures, draw attention and anchor the garden. They add contrast, variety, and movement, such as with diverse plantings and curved pathways, engages the viewer’s gaze and guiding it through the space. 

Layering plants for depth, repeating certain elements for rhythm, and achieving a sense of balance contribute to a harmonious garden. Just as negative space in art allows for rest, open areas in the garden provide moments of tranquility. Harmonizing colors using the color wheel completes the design, ensuring a visually enjoyable and emotionally satisfying landscape. (My favorite colors to incorporate are moody and deep purples.)

Tips to make your kitchen garden stunning

Creating an artful and visually appealing kitchen garden, reminiscent of an English garden, doesn’t have to take up much space. It simply involves thoughtful planning and consideration of design elements.

photo of how a kitchen garden is structured

Here are some strategies to achieve an aesthetically pleasing kitchen garden:

  1. Symmetry and Balance:
    • Arrange raised beds or planting areas symmetrically to create a sense of balance. (Pick a sunny spot of course)
    • Consider a central focal point, like a unique plant, to anchor the design.
  2. Pathways and Structure:
    • Introduce well-defined pathways, perhaps paving or gravel, to guide the eye and delineate different sections.
    • Incorporate low hedges, trellises, or arches for added structure and to create a sense of enclosure.
  3. Color Coordination:
    • Plan a harmonious color scheme.
    • Arrange plants in blocks or clusters of complementary colors for a cohesive and striking effect.
  4. Texture and Layering:
    • Mix different plant heights, leaf textures, and forms to create depth and interest.
    • Layer plants, placing taller ones towards the back and shorter ones in the front for a sense of dimension.
  5. Seasonal Interest:
    • Select a variety of plants with different bloom times to ensure year-round visual appeal.
    • Include flowering perennials, evergreen herbs, and seasonal vegetables to maintain interest across the seasons.
  6. Container Gardens and Decor:
    • Integrate decorative containers with herbs or flowers strategically placed throughout the garden. (Always keep mint plants in a pot, it will take over a garden bed fast!)
    • Consider adding garden decor like vintage signs, ornate plant markers, or sculptures for a touch of elegance. (I thrift a lot of garden art!)
  7. Encourage Wildlife:
  8. Personal Touch:
    • Add your personality by including elements that make your heart sing, such as unique ornaments, heirloom varieties of plants, or even a cozy seating area for easy access to enjoy the garden if you have room. (Morning coffee in a garden filled with singing birds is better than any trip or vacation I could take.)

By integrating these design strategies, whether you have a lot of space or not, your kitchen garden can transform into an enchanting and artful space, drawing you in with its beauty and providing a delightful atmosphere for both gardening and relaxation.

It’s also something you continue to work and perfect year after year. There’s no rush in making your beautiful garden. Let it grown and change like you do!

Now, let’s get on to what edible plants to grow in a potager garden.

I use the words potager and kitchen garden interchangeably, and you may notice others in the garden world do similar. 

Many flower types are a standard feature in the kitchen garden because they are edible, and provide a beautiful finishing touch to desserts and fancier meals. Others, like calendula, are both edible and medicinal. Keeping them close at hand is ideal. However you see fit to structure your kitchen garden is fine. A kitchen garden is forever fluid. As the years progress you’ll most likely find new plants you want to try and removing others your family had little use for. 

The protager garden is a space specifically designed for growing herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers that are used in cooking fresh. Most often these gardens contain many perennial plants. Which means in spring, this garden is usually the first one to wake up from winters sleep. You’ll have long growing season plants, and find yourself changing out other beds more frequently. I’ll share how I structure my small garden below, keeping it easy to maintain. 

Peeking through the garden gate into the garden.

Fun fact: 

Beatrix Potter, the renowned English author and illustrator best known for her beloved children’s books, was also a passionate gardener who wrote extensively about her experiences. In her personal journal, “The Journal of Beatrix Potter,” she documented her observations and experiments in her kitchen garden, showcasing her dedication to horticulture. While Potter is primarily celebrated for her enchanting tales of Peter Rabbit and friends, her writings on gardening provide insight into her deep connection with the natural world and her endeavors as a skilled and enthusiastic gardener.

Size Doesn’t Define Success

Whether you have a sprawling backyard or a cozy balcony, the dream of a personalized kitchen garden is attainable for everyone. Size is not the determining factor. Quite honestly, a kitchen garden shouldn’t be a ton of square feet, it’s simply not necessary.

Transform a small corner into a flourishing herb garden, maximize vertical space with container gardening, or create raised beds for a bountiful vegetable harvest. The magic lies in making the most of the space you have.

The turnover from harvesting most herbs to how quickly they grow back is impressive.

A deep container for root space on a porch or walkway is a great choice to begin your kitchen garden journey. Potted plants most often need more frequent watering though. Make sure to monitor them a bit closer than you would an in ground garden, especially if you have very hot summers. Do not let the soil become too compact over the years, well-drained loose soil is crucial. The type of soil will differ for containers versus in ground too, so make sure to use the correct soil for these plants. (Most bags will declare on them what they’re best used for/in.)

Where to place a kitchen garden

This garden space should be close to the kitchen of course! It’s a great way to make sure you’re adding leafy greens to your meals! However, a few factors come into play. 

cat in garden by gate

Smart Plant Placement: Full Sun and Partial Shade Options

Direct Sunlight is going to be ideal for most plants in the kitchen garden. This is not usually a place for shade or low light loving plants. You will need good sunlight, at least 6-8 hours a day. A bit of afternoon shade isn’t a dealbreaker though if you’re in an extreme warm climate. Optimal plant placement is crucial for a thriving garden. Explore the differences between full sun and partial shade, and discover the best plant combinations for your specific conditions.

What to grown in a kitchen garden

Common culinary herbs to incorporate include:

  • Basil (Ocimum basilicum): A versatile herb with a delightful aroma, basil is essential for various cuisines, particularly Italian dishes and pesto. (Pesto is its own food group in our house come spring!)
  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum): Available in flat-leaf (Italian) and curly varieties, parsley adds a fresh, bright flavor to a range of dishes and is often used as a garnish. (We harvested ours all winter long!)
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): With a fragrant, earthy taste, thyme is a robust herb perfect for enhancing the flavor of roasted meats, stews, and Mediterranean dishes.
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): Known for its distinctive aroma, rosemary complements roasted meats, potatoes, and bread, adding a piney and savory note.
  • Mint (Mentha spp.): Mint varieties, such as spearmint or peppermint, are refreshing and ideal for beverages, desserts, and savory dishes.
  • Chives (Allium schoenoprasum): Offering a mild onion flavor, chives are excellent for garnishing salads, soups, and adding a subtle kick to various dishes.
  • Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum): A staple in many cuisines, cilantro adds a citrusy and fresh flavor to dishes like salsa, guacamole, and curries.
  • Oregano (Origanum vulgare): A key herb in Italian and Mediterranean cooking, oregano imparts a robust flavor to pizzas, pasta sauces, and grilled dishes.
  • Dill (Anethum graveolens): With a feathery appearance and a unique flavor, dill is perfect for pickles, seafood, and creamy sauces.
  • Sage Plant (Salvia officinalis): Known for its earthy and slightly peppery taste, sage enhances the flavors of poultry, stuffing, and pasta dishes.
Full kitchen garden layout

Excuse the ugly tarp, that’s the remaining firewood pile leftover from winter. We’ll use the remaining up over the next month.

Best Vegetable varieties to plant: (Remember, you only need one or two of each!)

  1. Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum): Versatile and flavorful, tomatoes come in various varieties, suitable for salads, sauces, and sandwiches.
  2. Bell Peppers (Capsicum annuum): With their sweet and crunchy taste, bell peppers add vibrant colors and flavors to salads, stir-fries, and stuffed dishes.
  3. Zucchini (Cucurbita pepo): This summer squash is prolific and versatile, perfect for sautés, grilling, and baking in a variety of dishes.
  4. Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus): Refreshing and crisp, cucumbers are great for salads, sandwiches, or as a snack on their own.
  5. Carrots (Daucus carota): Sweet and crunchy, carrots are a nutritious addition to salads, soups, and side dishes. (Obviously carrots you would need to plant more than two, and these are best reserved for the spring and fall gardens.)
  6. Spinach (Spinacia oleracea): Rich in nutrients, spinach is excellent for salads, smoothies, and as a versatile cooking green.
  7. Green Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris): Whether bush or pole varieties, green beans are a classic vegetable for steaming, sautéing, or stir-frying.
  8. Lettuce (Lactuca sativa): With a variety of types like Romaine, Butterhead, and Arugula, lettuce is essential for fresh salads and wraps.
  9. Radishes (Raphanus sativus): Quick to grow, radishes add a peppery crunch to salads and can be enjoyed raw or pickled.
  10. Heritage or Cherry Tomatoes: These smaller tomato varieties, bursting with sweetness, are perfect for snacking, salads, or as a colorful garnish.

These vegetable plants provide a diverse range of flavors, textures, and culinary uses, allowing you to create a well-rounded and bountiful kitchen garden.

Edible flowers: 

  1. Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus): Vibrant and peppery, nasturtium flowers can be used in salads, sandwiches, or as a garnish.
  2. Calendula (Calendula officinalis): With a slightly tangy flavor, calendula petals are great for brightening up salads and adding color to soups. (These bloomed even into the winter for me in zone 7B)
  3. Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla): Delicate and apple-scented, chamomile flowers are often used to make calming teas. (These self seed and come back each year!)
  4. Borage (Borago officinalis): Known for its vivid blue blossoms, borage flowers have a mild cucumber-like taste, perfect for salads or freezing in ice cubes for beverages. (This was a new to me plant last year and it’s now a must grow every spring! It also comes back.)
  5. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): Beyond its aromatic qualities, lavender flowers can be used sparingly in desserts, teas, or as a garnish.
  6. Violas (Viola spp.): With a mild, sweet flavor, viola flowers are lovely additions to salads, desserts, and as cake decorations.
  7. Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale): Before they turn into seed heads, dandelion flowers can be enjoyed in salads, jellies, or infused into syrups. (Maybe not a kitchen garden staple, forage these from your yard! As long as you use organic practices in your yard that is.)
  8. Rose (Rosa spp.): Fragrant and sweet, rose petals are edible and can be used in salads, desserts, or to make floral syrups.
  9. Marigolds (Tagetes spp.): With a slightly citrusy taste, marigold petals are great for salads, soups, or as a colorful addition to rice dishes.
  10. Chive Blossoms (Allium schoenoprasum): The purple blossoms of chives have a mild onion flavor, perfect for salads, garnishes, or infused oils.

Planning and Planting

Raised beds offer numerous advantages, including better drainage and improved soil quality. 

Elevating the soil level, typically in framed structures, offers several benefits. Firstly, they provide better control over soil quality, allowing for optimal drainage and aeration. This is particularly nice in areas with heavy or compacted soil. Additionally, the raised structure warms up faster in the spring, which can extend the growing season in cooler climates. They also make gardening more accessible, reducing the need for bending or kneeling. The defined borders of raised beds also make for aesthetically pleasing garden layouts.

My personal bed choice: 

I have “raised my beds” with rock walls and small wooden boxes, but they’re not what would be called a standard raised bed. However, it helps offer the best of both worlds. I can still amend and maintain fertile soil, while not entailing the cost associated with some raised bed options. Plus I find the layout and design we constructed very beautiful. In the end, that’s what matters most since I’m out there weeding and tending it!

To purchase plants or seed:

When starting your kitchen garden, you’ll encounter the choice between purchasing plant starts or seed packets. Each has with its own benefits and considerations. Buying starts, or young plants already germinated, provides a head start, saving time and ensuring a more predictable outcome. It’s a convenient option for beginners or those with limited time for germination and early care.

However, the cost per start is typically higher than seeds.

On the other hand, opting for seeds offers a broader variety of plant options, (I love to plant things not common in others gardens!) and it can be more cost-effective for larger garden spaces. The choice ultimately depends on your preferences, available time, and specific gardening goals. Whatever works best for you is a good choice! (I’m a sucker for starting with seeds, and share how I start mine here.)

Good Drainage: A Key to Healthy Plants

Good drainage is fundamental for plant health. Learn how to achieve proper drainage in various garden setups, ensuring your plants receive the oxygen and nutrients they need. Good news! I wrote a whole in-depth post on soil health you can access here!

Plants For Kitchen Garden Recap:

​The right time to start a small kitchen garden is now

You can read and research until the end of time. If you want to garden, at some point, regardless of knowledge, you simply have to go for it!

Start seeds in sunny windows, research the easiest vegetables, and in execution, you’ll find the best ways to garden that work for you! Gardening is not a one and done hobby.

Gardening is a journey of lifelong learning. To work in the dirt is to learn continuously.

And each year, your skills will improve and you’ll do better. Start with a few kitchen garden plants and culinary herb starts, and go from there. Your own kitchen garden will be a labor of love, but one that you’ll not only benefit from in the kitchen, but life in general. There’s just something special friend, about tending a garden.

Want to get more inspiration from my gardening adventures? Make sure to follow along on Instagram where I share what’s happening on our homestead in real time.

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