How to make a Kitchen Garden

My Kitchen Garden with sound effects!

It wasn’t very long after learning I had a passion for cooking that I planted my first kitchen garden.  It might have even happened at the same time.  Cooking and gardening go together; gathering a basketful of herbs and vegetables at their peak of flavor, fresh-picked and unsprayed, bringing them to the kitchen, just a few steps from our own small garden has been a giant plus for the happiness in our “cottage of content.” 

I had always dreamed of having a garden with a gate, surrounded by a picket fence.  So one day Joe dug a spot out of our lawn while I went shopping for plants!  I didn’t want or need a garden any bigger than I could take care of myself.  I wanted to smell things growing, in the sunshine and fresh air of my own little plot of earth; a place I could go to listen to the bees while digging in the dirt.

I was so excited while Joe was building this, I had it all planted before the gate was on!  Lined in marigolds to help keep pests away (not to mention looking good), I planted mostly things for salad, like lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, basil, garlic, chives, mint, lemon thyme, sage, rosemary, camomile, nasturtiums, peppers, lemon cucumbers and lavender. Oh, and strawberries!  So I can gather a few for our breakfast!  These things are always in our garden.  But sometimes I plant purple potatoes too, or watermelon or pumpkins, something fun.

The next year, Joe put in raised beds with a path that goes all the way around. I added lots of flowers!  Many flowers, all the roses and berries, and some of the herbs, like the chives and thyme, are perennials and come back every year. This is how our garden looks in June.  The large purple bush in the middle of the inside is “nepeta,” cat mint, a perfectly wonderful thing to grow.

These are flowers from our garden I dried last year, between the pages of a huge dictionary.  I put them in my diaries, old books, and letters.

I’m showing you this so in case you’d like to have a picket-fence kitchen garden of your own, you’ll have plenty of time to plan.  A few years back, we were spending half our time out in California, so we bought this big, weed-infested, gopher conservation area (or so it seemed since there were easily one billion gophers on this property).  When it came time to put in a lawn, we realized we had to have another kitchen garden.  So Joe took his shovel out to contemplate the spot we’d chosen for it.

Oh yes, he can dig it.

Only this time he did it with a tractor.  Men building gardens is a well-known aphrodisiac, don’t you think?  Need I even say that my favorite Village Person was the guy wearing the tool belt?  Probably not.

He practically had to dig a swimming pool to get the hole deep enough — so that he could line it in hardware cloth to keep the gophers out, and then refill it with dirt.  He is my hero.

And who is the happiest girl?  Me.

And in a very short time, with a little sunshine, fresh air, and water, my new garden looked like this.  A garden is about as close to heaven as you can get on earth.  It’s like church. Breezes blowing, birds singing, sun shining, bee’s buzzing, butterflies fluttering, hummingbirds humming, tomatoes ripening, roses emitting, all done in perfect quiet.

The fence hides the mess inside, because sometimes it’s a wreck in there; there have also been years when we’ve been traveling that I haven’t planted at all.  But the perennials keep it looking nice no matter what.

March is when I like to start planning.  I get out my old garden books and my diary, to see what I did last year.  I look at old photos.  I call my garden “My Toy” because it’s like a toy.  I play with it, redecorate with different flowers every year, try out new things.

This is last year’s basket of bulbs and seeds to plant.  I love gladiolus against a picket fence; I put them in every year. When I was younger, I lived in second floor apartment that had no garden.  I hung a window box outside the window in the kitchen eating area, and filled it with garden soil.  With a  tiny child’s trowel; I planted a little salad garden that included nasturtiums, lemon thyme, three heads of leaf lettuce (I picked one leaf at a time as I needed it and left the rest growing); and pansies for the little vase on the table. That’s all there was room for but it was just enough; I could have a fresh little salad and all I had to do was open my window! There was my garden, practically in the kitchen!

Picket fences, by the way, also look very nice in the snow.

We don’t cut everything back on purpose, because even stick-dead things look pretty with snow on them!

So, if you have a garden like this in mind, here’s the plan:

You can find this drawing on page ten of my Summer Book, if you need it.  And one last little tidbit of information:  Paint your fence with white stain rather than an oil based paint.  Your paint job will last much longer; when it gets old, it will fade rather than chip and you’ll be able to repaint a lot easier.

This is the view I have of the garden from my art table on Martha’s Vineyard in the spring when the Rhododendrons are in bloom.  The breeze flutters the curtains, the fragrance comes drifting in, I can hear the birds, lawnmowers, kids voices, and I can’t begin to tell you how hard it is to stay seated at my desk!  ♥ 

54 Responses to How to make a Kitchen Garden

  1. jutta says:

    oh what a lovely kitchen garden!
    would you like to tell me the size of your kitchen garden?
    just now i am busy with building such a garden.
    greetings from germany, schleswig-holstein
    jutta

    • sbranch says:

      My garden is 12 feet x 24 feet. Perfect, not too little and more importantly, not too much! :-) Hello to Germany!!! Love to see you here.

    • cindy wiener says:

      Jutta,
      I was reading your response and when I saw where you were from I knew I had to try to contact you. My great grandparents were from the Schleswig Holstein area. They moved to Iowa in the late 1800′s. Their last name is Koch.
      Can you tell me a bit about the area? Just for my own imagination of where my great grandparents came from.
      Thanks
      Cindy (Koch) Wiener

  2. Darlene (nyc) says:

    Good morning Susan, I know you are very busy packing for your trip to England but I had a question for you and I’m hoping you’ll see this before you leave. I think I remember a while back a picture you shared of a beautiful new bird bath. I can’t seem to find it anywhere on the blog so I’m questioning if this was real or not lol. Anyway, we are looking for a bird bath and I wanted to ask if you had any suggestions and I wanted to take a look at the one you shared. Thanks xoxo

    • sbranch says:

      Ours was a gift from a friend for Joe’s 40th birthday … it’s made out of granite and I’ve never seen one like it before. Joe’s friend built things from granite. There are lots of cute ones in the garden centers — you can find a cute one. I think the more natural it looks in a garden, the better.

      • Darlene (nyc) says:

        Thank you Susan, I thought it was a gift for you from Joe and that you shared a pic of it but I’m probably confusing the gift part….anyway I will be checking out the garden centers to see what they have…I’m hoping to find a sweet one, perhaps with kissing birds or embracing swans. Thanks again

        • sbranch says:

          I found a cement bird, a cute fat one, and set him on the side of my granite bird bath . . . in case you find a plain one, you could do that!

          • Darlene (nyc) says:

            Great idea! I’ve put a few bird feeders in the front of my home and in the backyard and I’ve been graced with the presence of the most beautiful birds. I’d like to make them comfortable so that they will stay around a while as they bring to me so much pleasure! My husband would like the birdbath to be a gift from him to me and so I’m trying to point him in the right direction lol but I’d like it to be something he chooses. Thanks again for all your help and the inspiration to get this going…..you planted the seed and so it blooms xoxo

  3. Jenny Fritz says:

    I just completed my kitchen garden modeled after yours from your book. I’ve been dreaming of it for years, probably since I first saw your book. I have two gates at either end with arbors over them and a brick path. I, too, hope to decorate the outside so the mess inside doesn’t show. Thanks for all your wonderful inspiration!

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  5. Debbie in So,Ca. says:

    Oh Susan….looking at these pictures again makes me wonder how you could ever leave it for so long, your home and garden look like heaven to me. Oh dont get me wrong i am following along to England with all its beauty…but like Dorothy say’s “There’s no place like home” Thats what I would be thinking but you your different.. you look up and say “Oh Brave New World”And that is one of the reason’s we all love you so much. You have been given many gifts from the Lord, one being your spirit of adventure, always seeing what is possible, not taking no but making all your dreams come true. God’s Blessings to you and Joe and I can’t wait for you to come home and post pictures of Girl Kitty and Jack and aged kitchen towels hanging in your yard blowing in the wind. Receipes old and new and letting us know what we should be doing for the beginning of summer! Oh aren’t I just like a kid!! But really I wish you a blessed vacation blanketed in peace, beauty and restoration.

    • sbranch says:

      I keep thinking about the island, the old houses there, the little neighborhoods, my home (my heartbeat), my kitchen, the girlfriends, my kitties, and the peaceful life we have there. Appreciation is so easy when you are far away!

  6. carol shapiro says:

    Hi Susan, I was thinking how nice it would be if you featured some old fashioned remedies to get rid of the bugs that are eating their way through my kitchen garden…so inspired was I by your garden, that I have planted my first raised bed of veggies..and eventually a picket fence will surround a 12 x 12 ft (tiny!) enclosed garden…anyway, my lettuces and peppers , etc. are being eaten to death… herbs are faring well thankfully…so in your sales section, I thought perhaps you could feature some wonderful solutions for this problem…- I don’t want to use anything that is not natural… anyway, I hope to iron all the bugs out, pun intended, and look forward to hanging a straw hat on my picket fence gate ( eventually!) similar to yours… Enchanting! What great ideas you have!!!

  7. Janis LaDam says:

    I have had the vision of your garden in my head for many years, and now it will become a reality. Picket fence, gate, trellis for grapes, perennial beds for asparagus, strawberries, blue berries, and flowers. It also must be lined for gophers,bunnies and Abbie, our Bernese Mt. Dog. Work to start soon, thanks for your beautiful cottage inspiration.

  8. Robyn Genau says:

    Yeah! finally found a copy of one of your cookbooks to buy but having no luck with Autumn.

  9. mary spring says:

    ….while patiently awaiting a new post it’s always fun to re-read all the other areas of your web-site ( for inspiration and comfort ) … yes !! …sharing Autumn would be a fun giveaway !!! ….it’s a wonderful book, yet hard to find anymore…hope you will carry it again in your web- store again sometime !! ..just ordered “Christmas” and “Christmas Joy” from your vintage selections and ‘am so excited to get them…thanks for all you do,Susan..and happy Autumn !!!!!…with love..

  10. mary spring says:

    P.S. …..did i really say “patiently” ?!?…( lol !)

  11. Noel says:

    can I pin this on my garden board to save for later when I have an area I want to transform into a garden?

  12. Evangeline Archer says:

    So happy to find your blog….every year my girlfriends get me ur calender but this year couldn’t find one. Hope to find more soon. I have been thrilled to read and see the blog..u are a kindred spirit…my dearest friend, Sherry, will adore your site. She is Anne of Green Gables and i am her friend Diana. We lived beside each other for over 7 years It was Heavenly to find the blog and really forward to the next new and adventures in Susan Branch………Thank ou

    closes

    • sbranch says:

      Oh boy, more kindred spirits. You have an Anne of Green Gables name! Evangeline, I think she would wish for that!

      The reason we opened our online store is because so many people couldn’t find my things . . . if you can’t find a calendar, we do have them here (for as long as they last) — just go to the top of the page and click on shopping.

      Nice to meet you! Hello to Sherry too!

  13. Lisa Muncy says:

    Susan I love your garden! My relatives who live around me have gardens, but no white picket fence! Mine will surely have one! You say the marigolds help keep pests away, and I was wondering which pests you have there on the island? Here our main pests to gardens are deer and rabbits. That’s why my relatives and neighbors have electric fences and primitive scarecrows to keep them out! I want a lovely garden, but I don’t want the electric fence!! It’s a hobby I’d love to try if I can keep the deer from jumping over my picket fence!!

    • sbranch says:

      Marigolds don’t work on deer … they are more for aphids and the like. Rabbits are easy, we have about a 2 and a half foot wire fence on the inside of the pickets, all the way around … that keeps the rabbits out. We don’t have deer in our neighborhood on the island, but I have the same picket fence garden in California and one time the deer came and ate almost all of my rosebuds on all my rose bushes! So I put cayenne in a jar with dish soap and a little cooking oil and put it on all the remaining buds and leaves …. I don’t know if this was the reason, but I never had trouble with deer again, knock on wood, and we really live out in the country there. So, it seems like it worked.

  14. cynD smith says:

    I too Love love love a garden.. two years ago we branched out to 5 fruit trees too.. One died and the rest are still happy.. I even this past summer had 3 peaches on one of these new trees. My herbs are aside from the garden so that I can let them take over. I too love cat mint, along with sweet mint and more. I have several raised beds one for asparagus and strawberries and a informal raised bed for the raspberries and blackberries… Always things to play with in the garden..I have not yet a fence but I do have an entry… rather amusing but it is there to go in through or around… what ever suits your fancy for the moment. nothing better than fresh from the garden goods and when one has enough to can….. all the better. I am so glad I am here to see the goings on of other great people. Blessings of out Christmas time be with you and yours. (including the fur-kids).

    • sbranch says:

      I love reading about your garden this time of year! Now that’s something California really has going for it! Herbs and veggies and ROSES year round! Where are you?

  15. Karen P. - Green Bay, WI says:

    I always love it when you share pics of your white picket fence gardens! Gives hope of things to come on a dreary (almost) Spring day! Your garden looks so neat and well-tended. You must tend to it every day and listen to the birds chirping in the sunshine! Love it! xoxo

    • sbranch says:

      It doesn’t look quite like that right now, I’m about to go out there with a giant rake! Get those old leaves before everything starts filling in.

      • Karen P. - Green Bay, WI says:

        But it WILL look like that before too long! Our yard looks more like the winter pics! UGH! Oh well….all in good time….all in good time!

  16. love it :) Your garden is one of the inspirations for my veggie garden. but I don’t have raised beds in mine. Going to try to change that this year.

    weeds are down with raised beds, right? and you dont’ have to rotter till when they are raised?

    • sbranch says:

      Yes, it’s especially good for the soil, you do all your gardening from the path which means the soil doesn’t get as compacted — you can plant closer together too, which keeps the weeds down, you can add goodies to the soil like compost more easily. It’s prettier too. They also warm up faster in spring, so you can get started more easily. No rototilling.

  17. Joann says:

    As you know, we moved away from our BIG garden on acreage at the log house; however, now I just have a small patch but I do big things with it; yes, I do!

    Can’t stop a gardener!!

    Well, snow is a deterrent…
    xo
    Joann

  18. Lynn Maust says:

    After spending a long time today looking at you tube political and economic and prepping vds and becoming more concerned and worried and gloomy, i JUST KNEW I HAD TO COME HERE AND BE REBORN!

  19. Barbara Kirk says:

    Love Love the beautiful pictures of your garden Susan…I have a small herb garden just off my back porch along with roses and some lavender. I love the upcoming months when I can plant and harvest! No more winter!!

  20. Paula says:

    What a beeeeautiful blog! I had a dream this afternoon, in the gloomy overcast weather, of a garden with a white picket fence, a veg and herb plot in the sun with a shingled area in the shade planted with ferns, astilbes and other shade loving plants purely for me to sit about amongst the dappled light and watch nature perform it’s song… at the moment it’s mostly grass which I plan to change very soon! Your photography, story and drawings are an inspiration!

  21. Rafeeah shaikh says:

    Good one I like this blog….
    It made me inspire to make my own kitchen garden…….
    wonderful….!!!!!!!!!!

  22. Margot in Virginia Beach says:

    Susan and Joe,
    What did you use for the sides of the raised plots?? It looks like 2X6s. Were they green treated?
    Margot
    Just planning ahead for next year. I am going to clear an area along a fence.

    • sbranch says:

      Joe says 1 x 6 decking … not treated mainly because anything that stinky could not be good in a garden. Joe says he’s also used 2 x 6 but likes 1 x 6 for that size garden. Hope this helps!

  23. Marianne says:

    I have read so many of your blogs…. Again & again… I never grow tired of reading about you and all you share with us. Thank you for adding one more blessing to my life! I have a picket fence by my garden shed which is my own little piece of heaven on this earth. They really do bring you joy!

  24. Cecelia says:

    Hi Susan,
    I just stumbled upon this gem on your website. Inspired by you, I asked my husband to put a white picket fence up in our back yard. Wish I could send you a picture. We have it for our dogs to run free and do their business. Looks nice and the dogs love it!
    Cecelia

    • sbranch says:

      How smart — do you plant flowers around the outside? I love how the fence hides the “mess” of the garden (brilliant for the dogs), I enjoy mine in all seasons, it even looks good in the snow!

  25. Roseann Copeland says:

    Oh I am so in love with your kitchen garden. Would love to have one like this.
    Thank you for your inspiration.

  26. Eva says:

    Your garden is beautiful! What is the height of your fence?

  27. Oh, Susan, I feel so blessed to see these lovely pictures of your garden. You have inspired me to try to do the same. Flowers and gardens are a passion of mine. I love the white picket fence and have wanted one forever. Now I know exactly where to put it and what to put in it. Thank you, forever….your work, your words, your wisdom open up a window in my gardening/home loving soul….have all your seasons in little books….thank you, maggie

    • sbranch says:

      You’re so welcome Maggie, good luck with it. I call mine “My Toy” because that’s what it’s like, a toy for grownup girls.

  28. bernice patterson says:

    Susan, I haven’t been on the computer forever, so I checked your site and as usual was not disappointed. Once again I am inspired and thankful for you and your lovely blog.
    Blessings from Canada
    Bernice

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