A Culinary Kitchen Garden Perfect for Small Spaces
Herbs are a must in my garden. I use fresh herbs in cooking year round and love to keep them close to the kitchen for easy harvest. Join me as we tour the transformation of my perennial herb container garden to a culinary kitchen garden that looks as beautiful as it is tasty.
In my previous home, the garden spaces were near the edges of the property. We had a small deck off the kitchen with stairs that led down to a patio space. I created a perennial herb garden in containers for easy access from the kitchen. You can read about it and see the photos of that garden here.
When I moved to my current home, there was a perfect in-ground bed ready to become the kitchen garden. The 4-foot by 10-foot space is mostly in full sun and located conveniently just at the base of the stairs leading down from the deck. I lugged over the herb pots from the old house and transplanted them into the soil surrounding a young fig tree that came with the garden. The soil was terrible but I built it up with layers of homegrown compost over the next few years.
Bright, direct sunlight and healthy soil proved to be the perfect combination. All of the herbs grew like weeds and before I knew it I had monstrous sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and mint plants all competing to be the tallest and most vigorous in the neighborhood. However, they didn’t have a chance at the title with the fig tree growing in the center of the space. It shot up 10 feet and showed no sign of slowing down. I tried to keep on top of pruning and shaping the fig in hopes that it would respond well; but, in the end, you can’t argue with “right plant, right place.” It was just too big for the space.
It’s not often that you hear of a renovation being needed because things are thriving, but in this case, I needed to rethink what the garden would be in the long term, especially with all of that healthy soil and sunlight. My idea was to add in my favorite everyday herbs with a few special and decorative feature plants for interest. Given the size of the space, I hunted for dwarf or container varieties, as well as those that responded well to pruning.
My friends over at Monrovia generously provided me with some beautiful dwarf plant varieties that worked perfectly for the space. I reused some of my containers from the previous garden and divided the herbs to give them more growing room. Then, I added some annual herbs such as basil and parsley around the perennials for practical and decorative purposes.
Here is what my newly planted culinary kitchen garden looks like now:
Culinary Kitchen Garden Plant ListYuzu
Yuzu (Citrus ichangensis x C. reticulata) is an interesting thorny, lime-colored tree and a temperate citrus from East Asia. This tree came from one in Japan with a similar climate to the Pacific Northwest / Zone 7. While most citrus requires heat, sun, and at least Zone 8, a yuzu is an interesting addition to my temperate culinary kitchen garden. The fruit is bitter and astringent; used mostly in sauces. I have yet to taste it but the fragrant leaves give me some indication I will use a lot of yuzu in cooking. This dwarf tree will only grow to 6-8′ tall and it is cold hardy to 10 degrees F. It is the perfect feature plant to anchor the garden.
Like the yuzu, these two Brazelberries blueberries are also highly decorative, cold-hardy, dwarf, fruit-producing plants.
- BrazelBerries Blueberry ‘Peach Sorbet’ this compact evergreen blueberry (yes, evergreen!) has colorful summer leaves tipped with peach and deep eggplant purple winter foliage. Oh, and blueberries.
- BrazelBerries Blueberry ‘Jellybean’ is even smaller than Peach Sorbet at a mature height of just 1- to 2-feet. It has pointed leaves tinged with red and, of course, delicious blueberries.
I wanted a dwarf rosemary variety for the garden but decided on one that would respond well to pruning instead. Arp Rosemary is an upright growing rosemary that can turn into a 6-foot hedge if allowed. Since it responds well to pruning, I plan to keep up with these two plants and harvest a heck of a lot of rosemary throughout the year!
I have two types of oregano that share a pot: Hot & Spicy Oregano and Italian Oregano. The Hot & Spicy is fuzzy and has a bit of a bite when raw. When it is cooked it won’t add much spice to a dish so use it like regular oregano. The Italian oregano has a lovely lime green color and it is easily transplanted to the ornamental garden as a groundcover. I only use a little oregano in cooking, but I like to have plenty in the garden to flower for the bees.
I have two sage plants that have remained in the space. One large silvery sage in the northeast corner of the bed, and a tall sage that has been trained into a 4-foot tall tree. Both provide plenty of herbs for me and flowers for pollinators.
Chives, Nodding Onion
I plant plenty of chives and onions around the garden to ward off pests. Chives have purple, pompom-shaped flowers that will alternate blooming with the lavender. A nodding onion (Allium cernuum) is planted between the two rosemary plants showing off delicate white blooms that hang upside down.
My mojito mint is a large-leaf, sweet mint that was labeled only as “Mojito Mint.” It’s contained in a large plastic pot that overwinters well. I can often harvest a few mint leaves well into November. The dark stemmed chocolate mint is another favorite. It is a division from my mother’s garden many, many years ago. It produces chocolate-scented leaves reliably year after year. As mint can be invasive, I keep it contained to pots.
Lavender is planted throughout my flower garden but I felt it needed a place in the kitchen garden as well. This Thumbelina Leigh English Lavender is a dwarf variety that stays neatly at 12-inches high and wide. I planted them alternately with chives. The lavender can be cut back after blooming to keep its pretty shape and it will rebloom up to three times each year.
I have a love / hate relationship with strawberry pots. On the one hand, I love how decorative they are and this one filled with Albion, Seascape, and San Andreas strawberries looks gorgeous. I have been using it to grow strawberries for many years (as can be seen by the patina on the pot) but I have always been disappointed at how the berries in the lower pockets grow. This year, I created a perforated watering tube and now all of the plants are thriving! I expect a long harvest of fresh strawberries this year.
I wrote out the DIY instructions on how to create an irrigation tube for a strawberry planter over on Angie’s List where I also write a blog.
- Italian flat leaf parsley, curly parsley
- Boxwood basil
- Thai basil
- Pineapple sage
With all of these additions to the new culinary kitchen garden, I’ll be off to a great start with cooking. I’d be eager to hear about any herbs that you grow in your garden that you couldn’t live without. Please share your thoughts in the comments.
You might also like this unique living wreath: