Before the age of supermarkets, when many fruits and vegetables came fresh from the yard, the garden was just a short distance from the farmhouse, and the paths were wide enough to accommodate a small tractor. Flowers were impractical, so the garden was filled almost exclusively with produce for the kitchen. Hence the name kitchen garden. In the northeastern United States, “kitchen garden” still means any garden where vegetables are grown.
Urbanized and used to buying our produce from a grocer, we use the term “kitchen garden” to describe a patch of edibles, mostly herbs and salad makings, growing by the kitchen door. It is one of life’s simple pleasures to dash down the steps to pick a few sprigs of parsley or some baby cucumbers for the salad bowl.
The herbs most often grown in today’s kitchen garden are a dozen or so that add to the chef’s repertoire. These are low growing and look good with flowers, if you choose to combine the two. There is no standard size; you can fit a kitchen garden into an existing flower bed, a window box, or a patio planter.
Three useful herbs—parsley, summer sage, and thyme—make pretty little clumps that complement any planting; they can even serve as edging. The fresh green of the basils, large or small, is beautiful in a mixed-flower border, as is the big, colorful ‘Purple Ruffles’ basil. Mint smells marvelous as you brush against it or crush it underfoot, and it is making its way into American recipes through interest in Middle Eastern cuisine. Watching with anticipation as the seeds sprout in the window box and spinach, arugula, ‘Easter Egg’ radishes, and bright hot peppers mature in the yard is satisfying to both the gardener and the chef in you.