Please recommend books on "mixed-use" garden design for Northern climates.
April 16, 2011 9:10 PM   Subscribe

I have an old formal garden next to my 1830's house and I'd like to transform it to more of a kitchen garden with a combination of vegetables, herbs, flowers, berries and espaliered fruit trees interspersed with stone work and some wilder areas. I'm also considering chickens and will want a place for a clothes line. Do you know of a good book for designing beautiful, yet practical, gardens?

I'm thinking of pictures I've seen of English and French gardens with colorful jumbles of flowers and lettuces, terracotta pots, trellises, arbors, all in an organized, tidy layout but with a feeling of having evolved over many years, rather than being imposed by a designer onto a landscape. I'd like to have some books to look at rather than researching on the Internet. The book layout gets my creative juices flowing better. Also, is there a term for the type of garden I'm talking about? It's like a kitchen garden, but a little more extensive and perhaps slightly grander? My house is big and somewhat formal, so a small cottage garden may not be right...
posted by bumpcat to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Also, is there a term for the type of garden I'm talking about? It's like a kitchen garden, but a little more extensive and perhaps slightly grander?

The word you're looking for might be 'potager', which, I believe literally just means 'kitchen garden' in French but in english has gained a connotation of "kitchen garden, but nice".
posted by jeb at 9:19 PM on April 16, 2011

We found good inspiration for a similar garden space in any of the many books about gardens in Colonial Williamsburg, especially for ideas on spaces that were formal and beautiful ... but growing food.

You also may enjoy Beverley Nichols' Down the Garden Path and the two following about his renovation of a Tudor home's garden. They're word-books, not pictures, but it's still pretty inspirational. (Also "customers who bought this item also bought ..." is showing me some garden design books that might be of interest, so try that too.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:20 PM on April 16, 2011

The BBC produced a series called The Victorian Kitchen Garden which drew upon the expertise of master gardener Harry Dodson, who learned his technique as a boy from actual Victorian gardeners. There is also a companion book which I am enraged to discover has disappeared from my library's catalog.

Anyhow, the layout and techniques they talked about in the book sound like they would be right up your alley. The DVDs sound wonderful. (I have only read the late, lamented book.)

Concerning chickens: if you do decide to get chickens, do not, for the love of God, turn them loose in your garden. The chickens I have known loved nothing better than gobbling up every tender young shoot they could get their beaks on, usually wreaking enormous havoc when they got into the vegetable beds. A chicken tractor will take care of this problem and allow you and the chickens to enjoy quality garden time.
posted by corey flood at 9:42 PM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

The "wilder parts" part and wanting to stack a lot of function into the space made me think permaculture. Gaia's Garden is a great resource for home-scale permaculture, and the examples / photos could work for you - they aren't too "crunchy".
posted by momus_window at 10:22 PM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

You need to think about the soil first and getting the fertility up with lots of manure, working it till you can dig it easily, drainage, stuff like that. If you really want to produce useable quantities of food that's more important than a pretty design and you have to do that first thing, rather than as an afterthought. Also corey flood is right about the chickens. You can't let them wander around or they'll destroy everything.
posted by joannemullen at 10:40 PM on April 16, 2011

As long as you can look past the premise of the one-square-yard plot idea, One Magic Square is a good book for helping to learn how to think about fruit, veg & herb gardening.

Most other gardening books I've read seem to focus on single tasks, like pruning roses or growing vines, whereas One Magic Square is the first one I've found that actually gives you a starter on the principles behind *why* you should plant in certain ways - eg in terms of deep v shallow roots, plants that suck nitrogen from the soil v those that give it back, how to rotate your crops through the seasons to replenish the soil, companion planting, and so on - more of a holistic approach than you'd find in regular "encyclopaedia" style gardening books.

It won't give you the principles of designing the rambling, slightly degenerate kind of garden you're thinking of, but I really think it will give you a good set of principles & ideas that can help you reduce the "error" part of the trial-and-error that is gardening.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:53 AM on April 17, 2011

The New Kitchen Garden by Anna Pavord is very good; I also liked The complete kitchen garden by Patrick Bowe.
posted by violette at 4:40 AM on April 17, 2011

Check out the British book, Creating The Family Garden. While the bulk of this book deals with creating gardens with playspaces for children, she has a beautiful plan for a Farmhouse Garden which sounds exactly like what you describe: bountiful kitchen garden, espaliered trees, chickens.
posted by apparently at 7:31 AM on April 17, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks you all for these great suggestions! I've ordered several of them and am trying to clear time and space to indulge in nights of reading garden books and looking at inspiring images, prior to starting the actual garden. Thanks also for the reminder about soils, joannemullen, and the chicken warnings!
posted by bumpcat at 9:11 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Rosalind Creasy's Complete book of edible landscaping was just reissued in 2010. The original edition was excellent and I'm sure this is too. She has other titles in this category that are worth looking for.

Kate Gessert, Beautiful food gardens

Patrick Bowe, as above

Joy Larkcom, Creative vegetable gardening

Shepherd Ogden, New American kitchen garden

Rosemary Verey created an attractive kitchen garden in the corner of her much larger ornamental garden. She's written so many books that I can't remember the title of her original book.

Geoff Hamilton, Edible kitchen gardens is good.

Here are two I haven't seen but am going to look for:
Susan McClure, Culinary gardens

Diana Anthony, Ornamental vegetable garden.

Some of the picture books like Englishwoman's/man's garden, American woman's/man's garden include ornamental kitchen gardens, though that is not the theme of the whole book.

It's probably a good idea to keep the vegetable patch somewhat out of the public eye. It's bound to look pretty ratty at certain times. After all, you'll be picking vegetables and that ruins the pretty patterns.

Well designed fences, paths, walls, and espaliered trees can keep the various garden areas looking planned rather than random--the same way that mowing the lawn makes the adjacent flower beds look better.
posted by sevenstars at 12:02 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

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