By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter
The other day, I was at my local library not to get a book but instead trying to place a flyer up for The Maxwell Project (kids gardening project).
As I was standing there, waiting my turn, I decided I would go take a look at their gardening books.
To my surprise or disappointment, I found that the gardening section consisted of three narrow shelves.
Some of the books were so old that they were discolored, brown with frayed edges. Somehow I thought as I looked at these books, that the wear and tear was not due to use but the lack of use.
As my eyes traveled down the shelves, I saw a book that caught my eye. It looked modern, fresh and full of new ideas. While I am not saying that the old books were of no value, I am not, but in my opinion it is always a good idea to have a mix of the old and new. Unknowing to me, this is exactly what this book represented.
Once I got the book home, I was able to view it in a clear light. The cover was full of colorful vegetables and herbs while the back of the book was covered in a depiction of a “kitchen garden” that was so colorful and full of life that I could have framed and displayed it as a piece of fine art.
When I opened the book, the first page I came to was how to make a kitchen garden. It described in simple language how the book was laid out. This included 13 detail plans for unique kitchen garden designs along with a list of plant material and pictures. It also included a list of mail order sources, by which plants listed in the book could be acquired.
The second part of the book, as the description states, is a primer to getting your garden started, keeping it going, and has a limited section on preserving. This section also showcases some of the common vegetables that can be found in a kitchen garden, including their individual history.
What I found most interesting was the brief section on the history of a kitchen garden. While most people feel that any garden that provides human nourishment is a kitchen garden, it is not true. Traditional gardens or vegetable gardens in rows are not kitchen gardens regardless of how close they are to the kitchen.
While there is no clear-cut date for the start of kitchen gardens, it is believed that this technique started when someone combined the beauty or shade of a tree with edibles planted below. From this concept, it is believed that Chinese herbalists created medicinal herb gardens around third millennium B.C. The Egyptians then picked this up and began growing over 500 herbs around 2700 B.C.
A Sumerian legend even talks about a goddess who falls in love with a gardener whose garden combined trees at each corner, with a wall enclosure that contained vines trained to grow up the walls, vegetables in stylish rows and a water source. This last element was what was used for irrigation.
This idea was taken even farther with ponds being placed in the middle of the gardens. These water elements provided a means of irrigation along with another growing area that housed not plants but fish.
The basic medieval garden was broken down into four rectangles. Each rectangle would hold plants that served the same purpose. Another type of medieval garden was the “physic garden.” This garden was divided into 16 beds, which contained herbs and was placed near the hospital.
The medieval vegetable garden consisted of 18 beds laid out in two rows. Fruit, itself was planted in a different garden and planted in a symmetrical shape.
The complete medieval garden was always encased and/or protected by a wall or tall fence.
In this design, plants were organized by use but the design itself was broken up by walkways that bisected gardens and made it easy to reach any garden space. This design element allowed even trees planted in separate gardens to become one with the whole space. This in later years would be the backbone of all formal garden designs in Europe.
The four part gardens continued with the Persian gardens. These gardens not only needed to provide food but also a sanctuary away from the heat. These gardens were enclosed and contained both flowers and fruit. There existed a pond with four streams leaving it. These four streams bisected the gardens so that four corners were created and the symbolic cross shape was formed.
English kitchen gardens have eliminated the “streams and pond” and replaced them with two bisecting walk paths. A fence surrounded the garden with a gate, which instructed visitors where to enter.
Today, this English kitchen garden design is the staple for many gardens and is referred to time and time again as a timeless design that is added to something that can be viewed as mundane.
So until we blog again, let the dog days of summer lead you down the garden path to a good book, such as the Country Home Kitchen Garden Planner.