Vegetable garden ideas – designs and layouts for backyard plots
Embrace the 'grow your own' revolution with these vegetable garden ideas
Vegetable garden ideas offer some of the most rewarding gardening experiences.
After all, there is nothing quite like harvesting crops straight from your own plot. That rewarding moment when you pluck a red, juicy tomato from its vine, or unearth a bright orange carrot from the depths of the soil, is hard to beat and will have you itching to plant more. There is great satisfaction in knowing that you’ve given your crops a season of TLC and now get to enjoy the literal fruits of your labor.
There is no reason why everyone shouldn't have a vegetable garden as part of their garden ideas. Whether you have an expansive plot or a small balcony, are a keen gardener or a total novice, these vegetable garden ideas will help you on your way to realising your 'grow your own' dreams.
Vegetable garden ideas
The rekindled interest in 'grow your own' has got us all searching for vegetable garden ideas and the easiest vegetables to grow.
From herb planter ideas by the back door to neat allotment-style rows brimming with produce, there are vegetable garden ideas to suit every homeowner and every plot. Growing crops is also a great thing to try when gardening with children.
Size, space and aspect all play a part in influencing which vegetable garden ideas will work best in your space, but remember there are no hard and fast rules – simply choose the ideas that work best for your chosen vegetables and space.
Creating a vegetable garden can seem like a daunting prospect, particularly if it's something you've never tried before. But have no fear, it's actually very easy to start your own vegetable garden as these vegetable garden ideas prove.
1. Select vegetables that you love
The first step in designing your vegetable garden ideas is to choose the vegetables that you want to grow. This will guide you in your design and the style of your vegetable garden. The best way to choose your crop is simply to grow what you love to eat.
‘Make a list of your favourite edibles, including herbs, and consider those that are more expensive to buy. Include different varieties of vegetables you enjoy, then look carefully at your space and climatic conditions and narrow your selection,’ advises Period Living garden expert Leigh Clapp. ‘Plan choices so that you have harvests throughout the seasons – from the first potato crops to brassicas through the winter months.’
Once you've decided on the crops you want to grow, be sure you know when to plant vegetables so that you can start to figure out your gardening calendar.
2. Start your vegetable garden small
You don’t have to convert half of your garden to incorporate a few vegetable garden ideas into your plot. Start with small vegetable garden ideas featuring one or two plants, so you can find your feet. Growing tomatoes is a popular choice for beginners as these can be grown in containers and will take up next to no space on your patio ideas.
'If I had to choose one vegetable, it would be a climbing bean: they are easy to grow and give weeks of good vegetable right through the summer. I like to plant a combination of pod colors; green ‘Monte Cristo’, purple ‘Carminat’ and yellow ‘Monte Gusto’,' says Marylyn Abbott, gardening author and owner and creator of West Green House Garden.
3. Stagger your planting so you have crops all year round
You might think that vegetable garden ideas only work in the warmer months of the year, however, with a bit of forward planning you can harvest delicious crops all year round. There are plenty of crops that you can grow in every month of the year – for inspiration research what to plant in December and what to plant in January.
‘When it comes to starting out, try edibles known to be easy to grow, such as tomatoes, and plan when you plant different crops so you can enjoy year-round production and supply. Your greenhouse will enable you to be significantly more productive in your growing year, than if you were purely growing outdoors, especially if you know the right growing techniques,' says Tom Barry, CEO of Hartley Botanic.
If growing vegetables in the greenhouse, consider adopting vegetable garden container ideas, as these potted plants can be grown outside when the weather is good but can be moved into a greenhouse when the first frost threatens, thus expanding the growing season.
4. Incorporate herbs into your vegetable garden
Aromatic herbs are one of the easiest crops to add to your vegetable garden ideas. They can be grown separately as part of herb garden ideas or can be incorporated into a wider vegetable garden. As heavily fragrant plants, herbs provide so much more than just a delicious crop. They also act as a great pest deterrent, helping your other vegetables to thrive.
'Spearmint, sage, thyme, lemongrass and rosemary are not only great culinary herbs to add to your garden, but the strong-smelling oils from these plants also act as a natural wasp-repellent while creating an aromatic experience for you. Place potted herbs around your dining area or, if you’re limited on space, go vertical by hanging herb planters on a nearby wall,' recommend experts at The Greenhouse People.
If you're hoping to grow herbs as part of your vegetable garden ideas, be sure you know when to plant herbs to give them the best start in life.
5. Label your plants
Anyone who has ever done any gardening will know how easy it is to forget what you’ve planted. While this doesn’t matter so much when you are planning a cut flower garden, it is vital when you are growing vegetables as you need to be certain what you're eating.
Plant labels have a history of being rather unattractive with options limited between bright white plastic strips with permanent marker or wooden sticks that inevitably degrade over the course of the season. Thankfully, there are now lots of aesthetic and long-lasting designs that are perfect for your vegetable garden ideas – from DIY projects to durable slate designs.
6. Embrace companion planting ideas
Traditional vegetable garden ideas see the crops separated from the floral areas of the garden, however, this is not necessarily the best approach in terms of maximizing yield.
Instead, integrating blooms amongst your crop is a great way to embrace companion planting and, if you plant flowers that attract bees, will help to increase the number of pollinators to your crops.
Also take inspiration from kitchen garden ideas as this historical garden style will help you to create the perfect low-maintenance plot, achieving the right balance of vegetables and blooms. Even if you don't want all your backyard ideas to be focused on vegetable garden ideas, there are still lots of top tips for planning a kitchen garden that will help your vegetable garden ideas to thrive.
7. Add a water butt
Sustainability is important in every walk of our lives and the garden is no different. Incorporating vegetable garden ideas into your backyard is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.
In addition to this, there are other sustainable garden ideas to help make your veg plot even more environmentally-friendly – one of the easiest ways is to add a water butt.
Adding a water butt is a brilliant way to harvest rainwater which you can then use to water your crops.
'Using rain water for plants eases demand for mains water, is freely supplied, and has zero footprint for treatment and distribution. Furthermore, rain water is slightly acidic, lowering the pH when applied to soil, facilitating the release of soil nutrients and their uptake by plants, as well as counteracting gradual increases in pH associated with prolonged use of treated mains water,' says Dr Mark Gush, Head of Environmental Horticulture at the RHS.
8. Create a productive living wall
Growing plants vertically is a great way to maximize the productivity of your plot. However, you aren't just limited to growing cucumbers or growing runner beans on trellises – though there are lots of trellis ideas to help inspire you.
Living wall ideas provide a great opportunity to make the most of all your available space. They also offer a great way to add vegetables to your patio or small garden ideas. These living planters are hung against a wall or fence and feature individual pockets into which you can plant your crops.
Obviously, this would not work for all vegetables – especially not root vegetables or those with long roots – however, leafy vegetables such as rocket, cut and come again lettuce, spinach or even small cherry tomatoes are great choices for your vegetable garden ideas.
9. Building raised beds opens up a host of vegetable garden ideas
More versatile than planting straight into the ground, raised garden bed ideas offer a host of excellent vegetable garden ideas. They also give you greater control over soil type, condition and nutrients, meaning you can produce a bumper crop of your favorite fruits, vegetables and herbs. If growing your vegetables in raised beds be sure you understand crop rotation to ensure that your crop remains healthy year on year.
Monty Don is also a fan of raised beds, having added many throughout his gardens at Longmeadow. In this videofor BBC Gardener’s World, he praises their benefits for vegetable gardens, as they 'improve drainage enormously, warm up quicker in the spring, and mean you can focus all your energy into a very contained area.'
Many gardens prefer to learn how to build a raised garden bed so that they can create a bespoke design that's perfect for your garden.
When choosing or designing your raised beds, it's important to think about the height and the depth. Do you mind bending or sitting down to garden or would you rather be standing?
Also consider what you are growing. If you're growing root vegetables you will need deep soil and therefore a deeper raised bed, whereas leafy greens have smaller roots, so don't need the same depth.
'Raised beds allow you to easily ensure the plants you are growing have the soil they like. You can add more sand for drainage, more manure for heavy feeders,' advises Rob Smith, Horti Expert at Organic Catalogue. 'They are also easier to dig and better on your back as you don’t need to bend as much; ideal if you are a wheelchair user or suffer from back pain.'
'Raised beds planted in the center of a yard with access to all sides, follow the same guidelines as an in-ground garden. For a raised bed against the side of a house, plant taller plants in the back and shorter plants in the front,' suggests Amy Enfield, Horticulturist for Bonnie Plants.
You can plant any vegetable you like in a raised garden bed. From root vegetables like carrots and parsnips in deep raised garden beds to radishes, lettuce and spinach in shallower beds.
'Build your own raised beds from locally sourced, reclaimed or recycled timbers, including cut logs, ladders and scaffolding planks,' advises Leigh Clapp. 'However, don’t use treated pine as the chemicals can leach into the soil. There are many online guides for how to make them.'
10. Make use of vertical space in small spaces
It's well known that some vegetables, like peas and beans, require structural support to grow but you can also use them to support larger vegetables like growing pumpkins.
Pumpkins take a lot of space to grow horizontally, which is a problem if you're short of room, but growing them up a support means you can have a bumper crop while also growing other vegetables in the surrounding beds. If you're planning to grow pumpkins – whether vertically or horizontally – be sure you know when to plant pumpkins to ensure the greatest success of your harvest.
Incorporating vegetable garden trellis ideas and obelisks into your vegetable garden also adds visual interest to the space, especially if you opt to grow plants with pretty flowers like beans, peas or even sweet peas. 'Make your own natural supports with flexible stems of willow, hazel or birch – using jute or wool twine is also a sustainable choice,' advises Leigh Clapp.
Much more aesthetically pleasing than a bare fence, climbing vegetables up a trellis is the perfect way to maximize space, productivity and variety in your garden. An added benefit is that the flowers from the vegetable plants will also help to encourage pollinators to your plot – a must if you want a healthy harvest come fall.
11. Don't forget to factor in pathways
Access is an important part of vegetable garden ideas as unlike a flower border, you need to be able to reach all the plants for tending and harvesting. As well as aiding access, garden path ideas also help to create an organized vegetable garden.
If you're wondering 'How can I make my vegetable garden more attractive?' then adding borders and a path will instantly elevate the plot, giving it structure and order.
The variation of materials you could choose for your path can create different effects in your vegetable garden. Pebbles are a great choice for laid back cottage garden ideas – pair with arches covered in floral blooms and large terracotta planters to embrace the romantic potager aesthetic.
Brick paths, on the other hand, create a more formal and organized look while still evoking a natural garden feel. The red shade of the bricks also beautifully highlights the deep green of the vegetables' foliage. Pick reclaimed bricks, from a salvage yard or even a garden clearance, to give your pathway a rustic, lived-in feel that will perfectly compliment the garden's natural charm.
An additional benefit to building a path is that it 'makes it easier to spot and dispatch the pests,' recommends Leigh Clapp – which can only ever be a good thing.
12. Disguise your vegetable plot in a flower border
Not everyone wants their vegetable garden ideas to be front and center. If this is the case, then there are plenty of ways to make your vegetable garden less prominent in your garden design.
Plant vegetable crops in amongst flowers and plants for pollinators to create a beautiful yet productive vegetable garden.
When viewed as plants rather than just vegetables, you will quickly come to notice the pretty flowers, interesting leaves and wide range of colors that vegetables have to offer to your flower bed ideas.
Red cabbage is a particular favorite with its large bluey-green leaves veined with purple, they have even been seen added to bouquets and planters to add interest and texture to the arrangements. Plus you get the extra benefit of being able to harvest and eat them at the end of the summer months.
13. Add a seating area to your vegetable garden
From researching vegetable garden ideas to creating a vegetable garden that is brimming with produce and character is undeniably hard work.
Therefore it is important that you also take time to enjoy your space. Incorporating a dedicated seating area, whether that's a bench or arbor into your vegetable garden ideas gives you a space to relax, letting you take a minute to enjoy the beauty and productivity of your plot. It also provides a handy spot for that all important coffee break.
14. Use edging to demarcate your vegetable garden
Adding a border to your vegetable garden helps to demarcate the productive areas of your plot, making what can sometimes appear to be a rather disparate grouping of plants into a neat and tidy space. Borders can also help you to zone your vegetable garden and demarcate its pathways.
There are plenty of lawn edging ideas and garden edging ideas that can be repurposed to organize your vegetable garden ideas. Opt for natural materials like woven willow, flagstones or bricks to complement your garden planting, letting the borders blend into the plot rather than stand out.
15. Draw on quintessential vegetable garden ideas to create a productive kitchen garden
Neat rows with lines of fluffy carrot tops, sleek flopping onion leaves and ruffled lettuce all work together to create the quintessential vegetable garden look.
One of the easiest vegetable garden ideas is to replicate simply demarcate a border - whether by turning over lawn or repurposing a pre-existing bed. Then rake the bed until the soil is very fine and crumbly, before planting your seeds or seedlings. Make sure you pick a plot large enough for you to grow all your favorite vegetables.
Consider planting your vegetable crops successionally – leaving a month or so between sowings – to ensure you have delicious fresh vegetables ready to pick throughout the whole summer.
If you opt for vegetable garden ideas like this one it is also worth considering rotating your crop. 'By rotating your crops and not planting the same family of plants in the same bed for the following two years, you can get bigger harvests and less problems,' advises Rob Smith.
'Different plants use different amounts of nutrients from the soil, and by rotating them you can make sure the soil isn’t depleted of what your plants need. I like to plant legumes (which leave nitrogen rich root nodules in the soil), followed by cucurbits (which are heavy feeders and like the extra food), followed by alliums of brassica; then the process starts again with legumes.
The general rule is not to plant the same think in the same bed for years as crops get smaller and pest numbers will increase.'
You don't even have to have lots of yard space to create a vegetable garden. In fact you can even grow vegetables in your front yard. Simply cut a small rectangular border out of your turf and plant up with your favorite vegetables. Back the plot with a trellis and climb beans, peas or tomatoes to increase your mini plot's productivity and aesthetics.
16. Plant veg undercover for creating the perfect growing conditions
Greenhouse ideas are an essential for any serious gardener. 'A greenhouse is the stepping-off point for outdoor vegetable production. As well as raising tender crops including courgettes and outdoor cucumbers, you can kick-start runner beans, brassicas and even such root crops as carrots and beets,' advises Tom Barry, CEO of Hartley Botanic.
If you're currently in the process of planning a greenhouse, be sure to think about the practical requirements of growing vegetables rather than just using it as a space for starting off seedlings. Having raised beds or space for container grown plants is a must if you live in a cooler part of the country and are hoping to grow less hardy vegetable varieties such as tomatoes.
If you have already a greenhouse and are looking for more gardening inspiration – why not turn your hand to cultivating some of the best food to grow in a greenhouse or the best vegetables to grow in a greenhouse.
'Starting a vegetable garden under glass means you will have an abundance of absolutely delicious vegetables and fruit every time you step into your garden,' continues Tom Barry.
17. Use containers for a vegetable garden in even the smallest spaces
If you're wondering 'what vegetables grow well in containers?' Then you'll be glad to know that most vegetables will grow well as part of container gardening ideas, so long as they are big enough. Salad vegetables, carrots, onions and tomatoes all grow well particularly well in containers though.
'A couple of pots of cut-and-come again leaves will give you fresh salads for months. Other stars of the kitchen container garden include chard and kale, structural plants such as globe artichokes,' says Aaron Bertlesen, vegetable garden and chef at Great Dixter. 'Plant edible flowers, such as scented-leaf pelargoniums, in pots. The variety Attar of Roses makes a wonderfully fragrant sorbet.'
18. Incorporate vegetables garden ideas into a patio planting scheme
Incorporating vegetable garden ideas into your patio design adds a productive angle to your patio space. Either create beds in amongst the gravel, tiles or flagstones, or opt for a few artfully placed pots brimming with your favorite vegetables.
'Decorative choices to tuck in include frilly lettuces and cabbages, architectural cardoons, runner beans and peas scrambling up teepees alongside shimmering stems of rainbow chard and clouds of feathery asparagus and fennel,' suggests Leigh Clapp.
19. Incorporate fruit trees into your vegetable garden
Most vegetable plants are fairly small and low to the ground, meaning your vegetable patch can lack the architectural beauty of other areas of your garden. Adding the best fruit trees is a great way to add height and structure to your vegetable garden ideas, providing both visual interest and a more diverse crop.
Espalier fruit trees are a particularly great choice for walled gardens as they add character as well as being beneficial for the fruit trees. One of our favorite garden wall ideas, the heat from the wall helps to encourage the tree to grow and fruit, often much better than were it standing in the middle of your plot. There are lots of trees to espalier including some of the best fast-growing fruit trees.
Whether you grow them in the ground, pots or as espaliers against a wall, fruit trees also diversify your veg plot, encouraging wildlife and pollinators into your vegetable garden, helping to control pests.
If you're adding fruit trees to your vegetable garden ideas, be sure you know how to plant fruit trees and how to prune fruit trees to keep them healthy and productive.
20. Use vegetable garden ideas to encourage wildlife
‘Overly clean plots with no flowers do little to help fruit production or even some vegetables, especially courgette and marrow. Mono-cropping must be avoided everywhere in our gardens,’ advises Rosy Hardy, owner of plantsman’s nursery Hardy’s Plants.
'Mix some crops, such as chard and corn, in among the flowers and share any excess seeds with friends and neighbours so you only grow what you need,' says Leigh Clapp.
'Garden organically and nourish yourself with fresh food and the beauty of flowers, while being cognisant of the environment. Where possible, grow vegetables, fruit and herbs alongside flowers.'
How do I layout my vegetable garden?
Layout your vegetable garden by creating a series of borders – whether raised, in the ground or in pots – separated by paths for a traditional vegetable garden. Take inspiration from how to plan a garden to provide a backbone to your plot and the curate the design based on the vegetables you want to grow.
'Unless crops need special protection, it can be helpful to mix the plantings, as a large area of a single crop attracts pests and the mix of different edibles and ornamentals confuses them. It is helpful to draw the design on paper first before marking out or planting,' advises Leigh Clapp.
'For in-ground gardens, tall vegetables, like corn, should be planted on the north side of the garden so they don’t shade smaller plants. Medium sized plants (tomatoes, peppers, cabbage) should be in the center of the garden, and small plants (carrots, lettuces, radishes) should be planted on the south side of the garden,' suggests Amy Enfield, Horticulturist for Bonnie Plants.
When can I start planting my vegetable garden?
You can start planting your vegetable garden from early winter throughout spring, though you can grow vegetables all year around – so long as you pick the right variety.
'Cool-season vegetables, like cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and Swiss Chard, can be planted 4 weeks or more before the last spring frost depending on the plant,' suggests Amy Enfield, Horticulturist for Bonnie Plants. 'For garden main-stays, like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and melons, planting starts once all chances of frost have passed. Temperatures at night should be consistently above 50 degrees before warm-season vegetables are planted outside. In the south, warm-season planting can be late March through early April, while in the North, mid-May through early-June are usually the best time to start planting. '
'You can always ask your own state’s cooperative extension service to answer questions on when to start vegetable seeds and what types of veggies grow best in your area,' advises Idelle Fisher from Sandia Seeds.
What vegetables grow best together?
Carrots and onions are the classic combination of vegetables that grow best together, however there are lots of other vegetables that thrive in each other's company.
Companion planting can boost the productivity of your space and is definitely worth considering when planning your vegetable garden ideas. Cucumber companion planting, pepper companion planting and kale companion planting all offer great places to start.
Having graduated with a first class degree in English Literature, Holly started her career as a features writer and sub-editor at Period Living magazine, Homes & Gardens' sister title. Working on Period Living brought with it insight into the complexities of owning and caring for period homes, from interior decorating through to choosing the right windows and the challenges of extending. This has led to a passion for traditional interiors, particularly the country-look. Writing for the Homes & Gardens website as a content editor, alongside regular features for Period Living and Country Homes & Interiors magazines, has enabled her to broaden her writing to incorporate her interests in gardening, wildlife and nature.
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