Designed to feed

By Anna Celliers


Few gardening experiences are more rewarding than picking home-grown edibles, and the ways in how they are produced are always changing.

In simple terms, you don’t need much to start a veggie patch. The basic requirements are fertile soil, good drainage, full sun for at least five hours a day, water, a few basic gardening tools, packets of seed, vegetable seedlings, fruit trees and potted herbs. But why not venture a little further by also focusing on strong design?

It‘s all in the detail

Modern vegetable gardens are not merely functional, but are also designed with care and thought to be elegant and highly ornamental. They often boast ornamental hedges of perhaps lavender or rosemary, are filled with flowering plants between leafy vegetables, and are rounded off with herbs and fruit trees that have been espaliered or made into topiaries. Strong structural elements like fountains, birdbaths, lattice trelliswork, sundials and obelisks for climbing vegetables are often incorporated to provide interesting vertical detail and focal variety.

Feel free to choose any design for the layout of your home harvest, be it formal or informal. Your tomatoes, for instance, are not going to mind which design style you choose – they will rather respond to good food-gardening practises like healthy soil, companion plants to protect them, and enough water and food.

Double up with pots

If space is at a premium, remember that you can grow almost any vegetable or herb very successfully in pots, as well as some fruits. You can choose different pot sizes, but it is best to stick to one simple design style. Place them in strategic areas as added focal points.

Easy and comfortable access

Pathways can be as simple as putting down a thick layer of bark mulch, gravel or straw, or they can be more sophisticated, such as paving with bricks, pavers or tiles. What they look like isn’t too important, as long as they give you easy access to weed, feed and harvest your home-grown edibles.

Support structures

It’s inevitable that every bean should be given a pole to lean on, but it need not be a boring stick. If you know you are going to be planting beans, peas (and sweet peas, which should be growing next to beans and peas!) every year, plan for pretty and sturdy removable structures like obelisks and tepees. Also think about pergolas, arches or other support structures that will allow permanent plants like grape vines and granadillas to attain their full glory. It’s also important to erect and plant the latter in a setting where the shade they might cast will not inhibit the growth of seasonal vegetables that need sun.

Other focal points

Adding a large central focal point like a ‘fountain of life’ centres the design of any garden and adds an ethereal and mystical quality. From a purely aesthetic point of view, it also makes it easier to plot out a formal planting bed design around it. If you don’t want to go this big, try something smaller, like a central bird bath or perhaps a pretty container with a lemon or bay leaf tree planted in it, or just a large rock or even a sundial.

How to add colour in a vegetable garden  

Over the years, gardeners have realised that vegetables grow well when accompanied by certain herbs and flowers, which is called companion planting. This concept allows the designer of a modern food garden the freedom to be creative! The beauty of pretty plant companions (including useful herbs) is that not only are they an environmentally friendly way of keeping harmful insects out of your veggie garden, but they can also help to prevent most plant diseases. Planting them is also a design ploy used to add colourful flowers and different leaf textures to a conventional food garden. Insect-repellent plants with aromatic foliage or flowers include lavenders, scented geraniums, lobularias, yarrow, wild garlic and catmint.

Protection against wind

A food garden needs protection from the elements, and first prize is to enclose it with walls. If this is not possible you will have to think about other means of protection, especially in dry and windy areas. One way is to fence your vegetable garden with quince trees. These can be pruned into a hedge and their golden-yellow fruit will ripen in late autumn, when it can be canned or used for delicious quince jam or jelly. Another good fencing option is pomegranates, which are once again available in nurseries. The plants are hardy, easy to grow, tolerate heavy pruning and will supply you with ample amounts of beautiful, juicy fruit.