Re-Planning your Garden For Growing Vegetables
With careful planning, even a small garden can produce an abundance of fruit and vegetables.
The food-producing area should, however, harmonise with the rest of the garden, where children play and the whole family relaxes to enjoy the natural beauty you have helped to create.
Therefore, when re-planning a garden to give a greater emphasis to food growing, aim at making a happy marriage between the productive and the leisure areas. This can be achieved in a number of ways, as shown in the posts in this gardening section.
Every garden presents problems arising from its shape, size or aspect, and every gardener must make his own choice of things to grow. This gardening section, therefore, will show you how to design a more productive and attractive garden to suit your individual needs and tastes.
Drawing up a plan
When planning a new garden, or redesigning one that is already established, first measure the plot and draw it to scale.
If you are re-planning an old garden, mark features such as paths and trees that might be incorporated in the new design.
Before sketching this design, list what you want to fit into the plan: greenhouse, frames, shed, compost bin, herb bed, the number and types of fruit trees and bushes and, possibly, bee hives or a poultry house.
Next, decide on the area that you are prepared to allot to growing vegetables.
If you plan to grow only salad vegetables, you can set aside a plot as small as 10 x 10 ft (3 x 3 m) to gather regular supplies through the summer.
If, however, you want to make a significant contribution to the kitchen throughout the year, you must allow for a vegetable plot measuring at least 30 x 20 ft (9 x 6 m), with an even larger area if you intend to grow main-crop as well as early potatoes.
Finding the right sites
Having listed the main items to be included in the garden, the next task is to fit them into the most suitable positions. You will probably have to amend your original rough sketch plan as you go along.
Reserve an open site with plenty of sun and, if possible, sheltering walls or fences. Vegetables cannot be grown successfully within the rooting area of trees, or on a site that gets shade for much of the day.
In the vegetable garden, lay paths to such points as the tool shed, greenhouse, compost heap and garden frame. You will appreciate this part of your planning after heavy rain and when using the wheelbarrow.
When marking fruit trees and bushes on the plan, check with the planting distances recommended. Make the most of garden space by siting cordons, espaliers or fan-trained trees on walls or fences.
This is the most variable part of the garden plan, as you can change the size to suit the area needed for fruit and vegetables. In a small garden you may even decide to do without a lawn and build a patio as your relaxing area.
As with the lawn, the size can be altered as the plan develops.
Ideally, plant herbs as near the kitchen as possible. You can grow the most popular types in a bed measuring about 6 x 6 ft (1.8 x 1.8 m) or even smaller.
In a predominately food-producing garden, concentrate flowers in bold beds rather than dotting them in narrow strips.
Site the greenhouse where the light is best all the year round.
If possible, place it near the house to make it more accessible in bad weather. This will also make it easier and cheaper to lay water pipes and electric cables.
Set cold frames next to the greenhouse to save work when transferring seedlings from the house to the frame.
Tuck the bin in a corner, but lay an approach path suitable for a barrow.
If possible, site the shed within handy reach of both the house and the greenhouse.
This should be sited as far as possible from any house — whether a neighbour’s or your own.
Site hives as far as possible from your own and neighbouring houses. Screen with a high fence or tall plants to force the bees high on their inward and outward journeys.
Getting the proportions right
Having decided on what you want in your garden, draw a rough sketch on your scale plan. Start with the lawn, making bold curves until the shape pleases you. This will give you an accurate idea of the amount of land remaining for growing fruit and vegetables.
If you have not left enough, `swing the loop’ — drawing curves inside the original line to reduce the size of the lawn and make a larger food-growing area.
In a formal garden with a rectangular lawn, work out the proportions on the plan in the same way. These methods can also be used for planning paved areas instead of a lawn.
Where to grow fruit
If you plan to grow a free-standing fruit tree in the lawn — a bush, perhaps, or even half-standard — do not place it in the centre. Instead, plant the tree a little to one side.
The same principle applies when planting a group of soft-fruit bushes.
Try different positions on your plan so that the tree will be placed happily in the shape of the lawn and provide a focal point of interest. It may also help to conceal a shed or compost bin, or even a neighbouring building.
When planting a number of trees in a border with other plants, judge how they will fit into the general appearance of the garden when they mature into trees of different sizes. The nursery staff will be able to tell you what height and spread can be expected.
Screening the vegetable plot
Even the most enthusiastic gardener may not wish to contemplate rows of vegetables while relaxing in a deck chair. If you decide to form a screen, this should blend In with the general shape of the lawn or patio, rather than form an obvious barrier.
Tall, flowering perennials or a rosemary hedge can make a summer screen. Soft-fruit bushes or trained fruit trees, make permanent screens.
Curve the path into the vegetable garden. This creates interest in what is on the other side but out of sight.
Vegetables as ornamental plants
In a small garden, one way to increase food production is to make a virtue of vegetables as ornamental features.
Cut beds of suitable size in a lawn near a path. Grow only one or two types of vegetables in each bed, so that the visual effect is stronger and the growing conditions can be varied to suit each sort.
Spaces may be left in paving to create similar beds; but on a patio, a raised bed is more practical.
Sweet corn, tomatoes, herbs and salad vegetables can be grown in this manner.
Making the plan work
Having drawn your scale plan, clear out unwanted growth or paths in an old garden, or dig over and level the ground of a new plot.
First lay the paths. To do this take measurements from the plan and drive in wooden pegs about 12in (305 mm) apart to mark the edges of the paths. Make paths at least 2-1/2ft (760 mm) wide.
The choice of material is an individual one. Concrete laid on a hardcore base is long-lasting and efficient, but dull in appearance; paving stones and bricks are attractive but expensive; gravel is attractive but gets carried into the house and must be treated against weeds.
Whatever path material you choose, make the patio at the same time, pegging out the shape first.
After laying paths and a patio, tackle the lawn. Dig the ground over, level, roll and rake it, then peg out the shape according to the plan. If sowing seeds — preferably in spring or autumn — follow the curves of the pegs, but allow a little seed to fall outside so that when growth is vigorous you can shape the edge neatly.
If turfing, bring the turves over the pegs. Remove the pegs and replace them over the identical spot on top. Cut the turf against the line of the pegs. Roll the lawn and fill in gaps between the turves with sifted soil.
Next plant fruit trees and bushes, site the greenhouse or shed, and dig over the vegetable garden.
The first growing season is already under way.