Norman A. Plate
More: The perfect raised bed
SIZE: 11 by 12 feet
TIME: 2 days to plant, plus preparation, as in a French-intensive garden
COST: About $350
Veggies wrap around a central pathway in this garden, which makes working the beds a snap. Orient it so that the keyhole faces south; the larger plants (beans, tomatoes, and sunflowers) will be on the north side, where they won't shade smaller plants.
To prepare the soil, till it 8 to 12 inches deep, picking out roots and rocks as you go. Don't till the 3- by 7-foot center-access path (the keyhole); as long as the ground there is packed, weeds will have a hard time sprouting.
After the soil is well tilled, spread 2 yards of compost evenly over the beds and till again. Level the beds, which should form a 9-inch-tall, U-shaped plateau around the path. Rake the sides of the beds steep. Finally, spread 6 cubic feet of coarse ground bark or wood chips over the path to make an all-weather surface and to help keep down weeds.
(Numerals indicate number of plants; spacing given in inches)
A. Sunflowers, 5; 18"
B. Pole beans, 60 seeds (5 tepees); 6"
C. White cosmos, 24 (grouped); 6"
D. Parsley, 18 (grouped); 9"
E. Tomatoes, 5; 24"
F. Peppers, 9; 10"
G. Zucchini, 4; 18"
H. Swiss chard, 9; 9"
I. Herb mix, 6; 15"
J. Chives, 3; 9"
K. Sweet basil, 4; 9"
Next: what to grow
Which varieties to grow
Choose varieties of vegetables and flowers that are suited to your climate. For reference, here's what we chose (and the sizes they come in) for our test garden in Menlo Park, California.
Basil: 'Cinnamon', 'Dark Opal', and 'Sweet'; sixpacks
Chives: Common (blue flowers) and garlic (white flowers); sixpacks
Cosmos: White 'Sensation'; sixpacks
Garlic: 'California Giant White'; cloves
Oregano: 1-gallon cans
Peppers: 'Golden Bell', 'Long Italian', 'Red Bell', and 'Yellow Bell'; sixpacks
Pole bean: 'Blue Lake'; seed
Rosemary: 'Tuscan Blue'; 1-gallon can
Sage: 'Purple' for keyhole, plus 'Golden' and 'Tricolor' for French-intensive; 1-gallon cans
Sunflowers: 'Autumn Beauty', 'Double Sungold', and 'Lemon Gem'; 4-inch pots
Swiss chard: 'Rainbow' and 'Ruby'; sixpacks
Tarragon: 1-gallon cans
Thyme: English and lemon; 1-gallon cans
Tomatoes: 'Better Boy', 'Celebrity', 'Early Girl', and 'Sweet 100'; 4-inch pots
Zucchini: 'Eight Ball', 'Gold Rush', and 'Ronde de Nice'; 4-inch pots