A Formal Vegetable Garden

vegetable garden layout

Every now and then I have a call for a formal vegetable garden.  By this I mean a garden with a formal layout and structure.  These clients wanted raised beds for their vegetables for several reasons.  They liked the idea that they could tend the garden easily.  They liked the idea that the soil mix would be especially tailored for growing vegetables.  They have children; their lives very much revolve around the dinner table.  They have strong ideas about good food, and where it comes from.  Their soil is very heavy clay, and the site chosen for the garden does not drain particularly well.  I designed the garden, and laid it out with stakes and strings for them to see. 

Once they approved the plan, we stripped away the existing sod. We excavated the area, as the garden would have a decomposed granite floor.  This is a great surface on which to push a wheelbarrow.  It is a surface that requires little to no maintenance. 

vegetable garden boxes

Steve and his crew built the boxes on site.  Several courses of lumber were installed below grade, and set level.  When the garden is finished, we will reconfigure the edge of the driveway to run parallel to it.  There will be some regrading involved as well.  But at this point in the project, we are a long ways away from the finishing touches. 

A 3″ base of 22AA road gravel levelled the floor of the garden.  The sloping lawn will be regraded to meet the finished floor of the garden.  The poor drainage became very clear after a rain!  The raised beds will insure that water drains away speedily.  Vegetables attract no end of disease and insects.  A clean growing, well draining site is a good natural defense against trouble. 

growing vegetables at home

Once the bases of all of the boxes took shape, it was easier to see the overall plan.  Four boxes were simple rectangles.  The four center boxes were L-shaped.  A three tiered theatre for the center will hold pots of herbs, and culinary flowers.  At this point in the construction, we were going over lists of vegetables and herbs.  Like most families, they have vegetables that appear on their dinner table frequently.  Others-not so much.   

worm castings

Steve is an expert with soil.  He spent 16 years as superintendent of grounds at Grand Hotel, on Mackinac Island.  The island has very little in the way of soil.  A thin layer of compost covers layers of big rocks, and little rocks.  The cost of transporting soil from the mainland was considerable.  He composted thousands of yards of soil for their 165 acres of golf courses, employee housing, and hotel grounds.  He knows how to cook up great soil.

growing vegetables in boxes

This soil is compost of his own making, to which he added sand, and lots of worm castings.  It is rich, and friable.  The the idea of worm castings raises eyebrows, but vegetables thrive in it.  Decomposed organic matter is an essential element of good soil. 

drip irrigation

Each box has its own drip irrigation lines.  Water from drip hoses does not migrate very far away from the hose.  The drip is so so slow that the water sinks straight down-gravity, this.  Thus there is a need for multiple drip hoses, so the plants are evenly watered.  A drip irrigation system is not perfect.  A person needs to be in charge.  A person who can pick up a hose, if there is a need.  This spigot was run off the irrigation system.

vegetable garden fencing

My client has 7 acres of property.  This means they have all manner of wildlife.  Deer, raccoons, mice, rabbits and woodchucks, just for starters.  The garden had to be fenced.  The mainstay of this fence is a very sturdy galvanized steel mesh. A vegetable garden has to be sited and planted to take advantage of the sun.  A privacy fence might shade the garden.  The steel mesh does not impede the sunlight.     

Each panel of steel mesh is enclosed in a cedar frame.  A horizontal bar of cedar midway up the panel adds a good bit of reinforcement to the mesh.  As much as you love your home grown vegetables, all of God’s creatures love them too.  This fence says keep out in a very simple way.   

The fence is 6 feet tall.  The 6 feet wide gates are just 3/4 of an inch shorter, to permit the gates to be opened wide.  The decomposed granite finished floor has yet to be installed.  A second short round of steel mesh will be buried below grade.  This will deter the crafty diggers and the little creatures.

vegetable gardening

We are a ways from the finish here.  The tomato towers and herb theatre will be done shortly.  7 espaliered fruit trees are yet to be planted.  The drive needs to be reconfigured.  A cutting garden will be planted ouside the fence on the gate side.  Roses for cutting will be planted on the far side.  As for the planting of the vegetables and herbs-Steve is in charge of that part.   

This is a big garden. Not like a field of corn in Iowa, or a grove of cherry trees.  This is by no means a farm.  But it is as big a garden as they will ever need.  It is a working garden.  Sturdy, simple, plain-and organized.  I hope within a few weeks it will be a good looking working garden.   



  1. Good construction, and no way around that with deer!

    Are you planning to remove the leftover pieces of lawn between the new garden and drive, to create some plantings or treatment to soften the transition? Any low plantings to add some asthetic flavor? I look forward to seeing this finish out…thanks for sharing.

    • Deborah Silver says

      There is a bed across the front that will have an espalier apple arch, 2 pear cordon espalier, and flowers. The far side will have a bed with roses. Once we get all of this planted, we’ll take another look tyo see if we need to do more. I will write about the finish. Nice to hear from you! Deborah

  2. That is a great veggie garden. I would love to garden there. And lounge a bit too. I love perusing my veggie garden (nothing nearly so nice as this) at cocktail hour with a glass of wine in hand. The best part would be having Steve mix up some magical dirt for me. That’s got to be the hardest part. Great soil can make anyone look like a great gardener.

    • Deborah Silver says

      You are right about that! Everything grows like crazy in his soil mix. Like any great cook, he has no recipe, just all the right instincts and moves.

  3. Always great pictures. You get back and show the work in the landscape, a strong sense of scale. It’s so important to see how a vision actually fits in the surroundings. You get close to better illustrate a point, but I’ve yet to see you post extreme close-ups of bees in dewy blossoms. You’re the best garden writer going imho.

  4. Tom in NC says

    Indeed it is an impressive structure-from bottom to top. And, although perhaps not fair, whenever I view a vegetable garden, I can’t help but judge it’s merits based upon a quick mental calculation of cost versus the so many pecks, quarts, and bushels of gastronomic sustenance that may emanate from it’s loins. Which, to be candid, I just did with my own new garden, built for my wife. And though it’s much smaller in stature, only 12’x12′, and not nearly as stately, I concluded it will take a number of years of photosynthetic incarnation to recoup it’s initial cost. And yet, I never hold flower gardens up to the same economic scrutiny. I guess it’s because, unlike utility, beauty is so less-easily priced. But, in order to clarify that I am not just a hard-nosed curmudgeon, (and one wielding a wet blanket, too!) when I glance out the window to catch a glimpse of my wife, dirt-clad hands placed on hips, take a step back from her garden, for a view of what she, and nature, have conspired to create, her look of satisfaction, and mine, make the costs incurred, already worthwhile. As will that stately garden, too.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Tom, exactly my sentiments! And so well written! Giving a spot to Buck’s horse radish plant last year was in my view quite a sacrifice. This client has made a big committment to growing some of their own food-why not? Thanks for your letter, Deborah

  5. Tom in NC says

    Deborah. That’s so funny about the horse radish plant! Perhaps they are like sail- vs. power-boaters, the two attempt to live in harmony, but with a mild disdain nonetheless.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Tom, mild disdain-what a great way to put it! Buck and I have been talking about this all evening. Thanks for wading in. Best, Deborah

  6. That is a nicely secure garden….maybe not squirrel proof, but then you’d need a greenhouse for that. It’s hard to find a balance between an attractive fence and one that actually keeps the animals out.
    Does the espalier garden go on the outside? Seems odd to leave the most costly item outside for the deer to snack on.

    • Deborah Silver says

      One espalier is in, and 4 are out. In this particular situation, I think the espaliers out will be ok. We planted them today.

  7. I was looking for something that I could install in our front yard to replace the “lawn”/wildlife habitat. It’s the only space on our 2 acre property that offers full sun, water, east access. We have a year round creek out back and the whole property is ancient riverbed – full of rocks. I want a vegetable garden. Your plan is perfect! It’s attractive, simple, easy to maintain and add to.

  8. Leslie Thrasher says

    Absolutley beautiful and functional!!! Can you tell me the size of this formal vegtable garden? This is absolutley what i am looking to errect in my yard!


  9. After a google search of the entire internet, this is the most beautiful garden, build and design I have seen. Absolutely perfect. I am modeling my own after this. I am a hard person to please, too!

    Great work.

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