Gardens

5 kitchen garden mistakes to avoid – from Rooted Garden founder Nicole Johnsey Burke

The author of Kitchen Garden Revival, founder of Rooted Garden and Gardenary shares her expertise on what not to do when planning your kitchen garden

Kitchen garden mistakes
(Image credit: Nicole Johnsey Burke/Eric Kelley )

We've all made kitchen garden mistakes, then lamented the lack of produce we've been able to harvest. Many of these mistakes can't be blamed on picking the wrong variety of vegetable for the climate we live in or not taking steps to prevent pests invading our borders. According to kitchen garden expert Nicole Johnsey Burke, we are often frustrated by our own enthusiasm to get plants in the ground, without planning our kitchen gardens as meticulously as we need to.

See: Kitchen garden ideas – easy ways to get started

Here, Nicole, who has just released a new book, Kitchen Garden Revival, gives us the benefit of her experience on what not to do – and how to plan well so that, come harvest-time, we are rewarded for our efforts. 

1. Not integrating your kitchen garden design

Kitchen garden mistakes

(Image credit: Nicole Johnsey Burke/Eric Kelley )

'Take some time to assess your own home style and specific spots in your landscape or yard that might have elements you can tie into your kitchen garden design. I love to design kitchen gardens that look like they've always been there so taking time to link your garden to a line of bushes, the boundary line of the patio or deck, or the edge of your home can make it feel like part of your space and a beautiful addition to your existing home and yard. 

'Make the garden look like it's always been there and before long, you'll feel like that's actually the case.'

See: Planning a kitchen garden – from designing a layout to picking plants

2. Hiding your kitchen garden away

Kitchen garden mistakes

(Image credit: Nicole Johnsey Burke/Eric Kelley )

'Consider your common traffic patterns before designing and setting up your kitchen garden. Many clients and students have the impulse to place the garden out of sight behind a garage or at the back of their property because they're afraid of its unkempt nature. 

'But hiding the garden away from sight is almost a guarantee that the plants will indeed become unkempt. When you place the kitchen garden alongside your. common patterns of traffic in your home and landscape, you're ensuring you'll go there more frequently to water, tend and best of all-harvest a little for tonight's dinner. 

'Make the kitchen garden a focal point in your home and you'll soon find the garden becomes a central part of your life as well.'

3. Not investing in good quality raised beds

Kitchen garden mistakes

(Image credit: Nicole Johnsey Burke/Eric Kelley )

'Do the worst part first. "Worst first" is a tip I tell all my students and clients when they're about to set up their kitchen garden. Oftentimes, we're eager to skip to the plants and so we end up buying a cheaply made raised bed, not taking time to clear and set up the space before installing or just dig some holes and plant those plants already. 

'But when we do the worst part, the hardest part, of the garden installation first, we save ourselves the headache and frustration that rushing to plant causes. When you take time to properly clear your space, level it, and cover it before installing your raised beds and soil, you've done all the heavy lifting up front and all that lies ahead is enjoying the growth and harvests-not trying to undo mistakes or make up for steps you skipped.' 

4. Not planting enough

Kitchen garden mistakes

(Image credit: Nicole Johnsey Burke/Eric Kelley )

'Use my intensive planting method. A huge mistake I see new gardeners make, or even seasoned gardeners, is not planting enough plants. Most instructors tell students to start with just a few plants but I suggest the opposite. 

'Too few plants means that more soil in your garden will be exposed which also means you'll need to do more weeding and watering. Plus, fewer plants means your garden is actually less interesting and thus less attractive for you to head out and tend and care for it. 

'On the other hand, I tell my clients and students to "think about nature" and plant the garden the way nature plants itself – lots of plants growing together closely in one space. Doing this means less weeding and watering and also much more interest and excitement each day as there's almost always something to tend, plant or harvest.'

See: Companion planting – your ultimate guide to planting alongside fruit and veg

5. Not getting expert help

Kitchen garden mistakes

(Image credit: Nicole Johnsey Burke/Eric Kelley )

'Get expert help! I see most beginner gardeners try to do it themselves when they get started only to feel frustrated and overwhelmed and then swear they just don't "have a green thumb". 

'But gardening is just like any skill – it's learned through methods, understanding, and experience. So, just like it's great to have a coach teach you how to play tennis or start a yoga practice, it's super smart to have an experienced garden consultant help you learn the skill of gardening. 

'Gardenary has Garden Consultants around the country that can help along with books and online courses that can support you along your journey. Take my advice and "Never garden alone". Get help and encouragement and you'll find yourself calling your self a gardener too very soon.'

Kitchen Garden Revival: A modern guide to creating a stylish, small-scale, low-maintenance, edible garden

Author Nicole Johnsey Burke, founder of Rooted Garden, one of the leading US culinary landscape companies, and Gardenary, an online kitchen gardening education and resource company, leads the way with expert advice.View Deal

Lucy Searle
Lucy Searle

My first job was writing a DIY column for a magazine for the over 50s (which seemed a long way off back then). I then moved to a DIY magazine as deputy ed, then freelanced my way around the homes departments of most women's magazines on the market before working on Your Home and Family Circle magazines as homes editor. From there, I went to Ideal Home magazine as associate editor, then launched 4Homes magazine for Channel 4, then the Channel 4 4Homes website before going back to freelancing and running a social media business (you can see where I had kids from the freelancing gaps!). I was tempted back to the world of big business by the chance to work with the great team at Realhomes.com, where I was Global Editor-in-Chief for two and a half years, taking it from a small website to a global entity. I've now handed the reins of the website to our American managing editor, while I take on a new challenge as Editor-in-Chief of Homes & Gardens.