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Medieval to 16th century | 17th - 19th century | Garden Restoration | The Nonsuch Restoration Project

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The Situation of the Kitchen Garden
By Duncan MacDonald


It should be as close as may be convenient to the dwelling house, for it is not so likely to be well attended to, if out of sight of the owner; and if it lie at great distance from the house, a considerable part of the labourer's time will be lost in going backwards and forwards.

If you have an opportunity of chusing your situation, and if you intend to have a pleasure garden as well as a kitchen garden, it would be well, before the general of the former is settled, that a proper piece of ground should be chosen for the latter, and the plan so adapted that it may not become offensive to the sight, which may be effected by plantations of shrubs, etc, to skreen the walls.

The figure of the ground is of no great moment; as in the distribution of the quarters, all irregularities may be hidden; but if there be no obstacle, a square, or an oblong is preferable.

The most particular thing to be considered is, to chuse a good soil, neither too wet nor too dry; nor should it be too strong or stubborn, but easy to work. If the spot should not be level, but high in one part and low in another, it would not be advisable to level it; for if by irregularity, you have the advantage of having the dry ground for early crops, and the low parts for late crops, whereby the kitchen may be better supplied throughout the year.

In very dry seasons, when in the upper part of the garden, the crops will suffer with drought, then the lower part will succeed, and so on the contrary; but you must not direct the planting of a very low moist spot of ground for the kitchen garden, for though on such soils, garden herbs are commonly more vigorous and large in the summer season, they are seldom so well tasted or wholesome, as those which grow upon a moderate soil; especially, as in this garden your best fruit should be planted.

The kitchen garden should be fully exposed to the sun; but, if it be defended from the north wind by a distant plantation, it will greatly preserve the early crops in the spring. But such a plantation should neither be too near nor very large; for where the kitchen gardens are placed near the woods, or large plantations, then they are generally much more troubled with blights in the spring that those which are more exposed.

The quantity of ground which is necessary for a kitchen garden, must be proportioned to the number of the family, or the quantity of herbs desired; it may be from half an acre to four or five acres; and the sooner it is made and planted, the produce of it will be earlier to perfection. Fruit trees and asparagus require three years to grow, before any produce can be expected from them; so, that the later the garden is made, the longer it will be before a supply of these things can be had for the table.

The garden should be walled round; and, if it can be contrived so as to plant both sides of the walls which have good aspects, it will greatly increase the quantity of wall fruit; while those slips which are outside of the wall, will be useful for the planting of gooseberries, currants, strawberries, and some sort of kitchen plants. The least width of these slips should be twenty-five or thirty feet, but if double that width they will be the better, as the slips will be more useful, and the fruit trees will have a larger scope of good ground for their roots to run. The walls should be about ten or twelve feet high.

The soil of the kitchen garden should be at least two feet deep, but if deeper, it will be still better, otherwise there will scarcely be depth enough for rorts of esculent roots, as carrots, parsnips, beets, etc. next to walls of good aspect the borders should be, at least, eight or ten feet wide; and in them may be down many sorts of early crops, if exposed to the south: on those exposed to the north, you may have some late crops; but the planting of any sort of deep rooting plants too near the fruit trees, especially peas and beans, is not advisable.

The walks as well as the borders should be proportioned to the size of the ground, from three or four feet, to ten or twelve. They should not be gravelled, for by wheeling manure, water, etc., upon them, they would soon be defaced, nor should they be laid with turf; for, in green walks, when they are much used, the turf is soon destroyed. The best walks for a kitchen garden are, those which are laid out with a binding sand; but, where the soil is strong, and apt to retain the wet, there should be some narrow underground drains made by the side of the walks, to carry off the wet. Where the ground is wet, some dry rubbish should be laid at the bottom of them. When either weeds or moss begin to grow, scuffle over them with a Dutch hoe, in dry weather; rake them over a day or two after, and they will be as clean as when first laid.

The best figure for any quarter is, a square or oblong, but they may be of any other shape which will best suit the ground.

The garden having been laid out, if the soil be strong,, and subject to retain moisture, there should be underground drains made; as, otherwise, most sorts of kitchen plants will suffer greatly in winter; and, if the roots of the fruit trees get into the wet, they will never produce good fruit.

In one of the quarters best defended from the cold winds; or, in either of the slips, without the garden wall, which is fully exposed to the sun, lies, convenient, and is of a proper width, room may be made for hotbeds, for early cucumbers, melons, etc. Where there can be a slip long enough to contain a sufficient number of beds for two or three years, it will be of great use; because, by the shifting of the beds annually, they will succeed much better than when they are continued for a number of years on the same spot of ground.

As it will be necessary to fence the melon ground with a reed hedge, it may be made to move away in pannels; and then that part which was on the upper side the first year, may be carried down to a proper distance below that which was the lower hedge; so that there will be no occasion to remove more than one of the cross hedges in a year.

Of general culture, the chief points consist in well digging, keeping clean, and manuring the soil, and giving proper distance to the trees and plants, according to their different growths. The dunghills should be kept clear from weeds; for, if the seeds of weeds are suffered to scatter upon the dung, they will be brought into the garden. Carry off all the refuse leaves of cabbages, the stalks of beans, and haulm of pease, as soon as they have done bearing. When the cabbages are cut, the leaves should be carried out while fresh, and may be useful for feeding of hogs, etc. This will preserve neatness, and free the garden from ill scents.

Please also visit Old London Maps on the web as many of the maps
and views available there have plans and depictions of gardens from
the medieval period through to the late nineteenth century.

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