The Cranky Gardener

4 Conversations

Garden Planning 101: Location, Location, Location1

Ok, you've been reading these columns and have decided you want to grow vegetables. But you aren't sure how to get started, right? And you're afraid you'll just blunder along and wind up as cranky as I am - and not have any vegetables to show for the effort.

One thing I've learned in over 40 years of gardening is that you need to have a plan. A good garden plan will not only yield better results, but it will let you maintain control.

'Pah!' you say. 'Of course I'm in control of my garden.'

'Ha!' I reply. 'Don't bet the farm on it.' I remember one year when a hill of heirloom Viet Namese squash got out of control and rampaged into my bean patch, climbed my bean cages, then took off south, engulfing bush beans, sweet peppers and cherry tomatoes in it's mad march to the sea. 'Ha!' I say. You have to know what you're planting and where to plant it. You need a plan.

This is the time to plan next spring's garden. The seed catalogues will start arriving in your mailbox soon, and without a plan you'll wind up buying enough seed for the entire neighbourhood. Then you'll feel obligated to plant all of it. So, you'll crowd things together
willy-nilly, not taking into account that you'll actually need room to
walk between the rows in July and August or that your corn is planted on the wrong side of your peppers and is shading them all afternoon. Are you starting to hear alarm bells going off?

You've stuck your carrots in as an afterthought and the soil isn't
really deep enough in that spot, but what the heck, you sort of like
baby carrots. And you plant tomatoes in the same place you did last year and nematodes infest the plants. Is that bell ringing any louder now?

You put your lettuce in the direct sun and it burns up in the heat, your zucchini winds up with squash borers and you wait too long to plant your beans and they are invaded by bean beetles. On top of that, the Bermuda grass from your lawn is invading your garden rows and you have dug a hole eight feet deep and still can't get all of the roots out. Clang!

Clang! Clang!

Then your brother-in-law brings you 30 tomato plants that he has raised himself - all varieties you've never heard of before - and you rush out to find a place to plant them because it would be a shame to hurt his feelings. Reality Check! He gave them to you because he didn't want the dang things. So you dig up the scorched lettuce and the dying zucchini and the carrots which probably will look like marbles instead of carrots anyway and put out 22 of the tomatoes (which makes a total of 51 since you had already succumbed to the temptation of trying too many different varieties and the dang nursery didn't have individual plants and you had to buy 6-packs) promising to find a home for the other 8 plants with a neighbour.


'Hypatia!' you shriek, 'Edgy Garden Goddess, save me!'

Welcome to Garden Planning 101. This week and for the next few weeks
we're going to plan a vegetable garden - step by step. So breathe, it's
going to be ok.

Step one is site location. This may sound simplistic, but you have to design your garden to fit the site rather than to bring home plants and seeds and then try to find someplace to put them. A good location is the single most important factor in planning a vegetable garden. You can improve the soil. You can fertilize. You can irrigate. But it's very difficult to improve a bad site.

Vegetables should be planted in a spot that will get at least 6-8 hours of full sun each day. And they require a soil with good drainage. If the area remains muddy after a heavy rain, then you will need to add some soil amendments to improve the drainage. If possible, select a spot that is sheltered from the wind and is away from large trees. The trees not only shade the vegetables, but the tree roots will compete with the vegetables for water and nutrients. And try to select a spot that is level or has only a slight slope. A low spot will collect not only water but also cold air. A south-facing slope is acceptable since it will help the ground warm up earlier in the spring and stay warm longer in the fall, thus extending your growing season slightly. A steep slope will require terracing, which is more work than many people are willing to invest. And finally, if possible, locate your vegetable plot near the house to save extra steps and near a source of water.

Remember that your vegetable plot doesn't have to be rectangular. And it doesn't have to be located in just one spot. Well-grown vegetables are decorative as well as functional and many varieties can be planted in your flowerbeds as border plants or accent plants if necessary.

Now that you have selected a site it's time to measure it carefully and make an outline on a sheet of graph paper. Next you need to remove any sod that is present and spade or till the site. It's important to do this in the fall for three reasons. First, it exposes weed seeds that germinate, freeze and die without reaching maturity. Second, when the ground freezes, thaws, and refreezes over the course of the winter, it pulverizes the soil and improves its texture. And third, springs tend to be wet, making it difficult to prepare the soil at the proper time for planting.

I also want you to make a list of the vegetables that you want to grow then rank them into categories - 'can't live without', 'desirable' and 'might be fun'.

Next week we will begin laying out your garden and determining what goes where. And we'll talk about both companion planting and succession planting.

You're going to need some extra nourishment after all that work, so this week's recipe is a stick-to-your-ribs, one pot meal. This is my
husband's favorite chicken recipe.

Hypatia's Fricasseed Chicken


  • 1 chicken; about 4 pounds - 1.8kg - cut into serving pieces
  • 1 cup - 100g, 4oz - each onion and celery, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 2 tsp ground thyme
  • ¼ - ½ cup - 60-120ml, 2-4fl oz - olive oil
  • ½ - 1 cup - 50-100g, 2-4oz - flour
  • 1 quart - 960ml, 32fl oz - chicken stock
  • root vegetables of your preference - I use potatoes, onions and carrots - peeled and cut into pieces about 3 inches long
  • 1 cup - 150g, 5oz - fresh or frozen peas
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy pot (a cast iron Dutch oven2 is perfect) or skillet3 brown the chicken pieces on both sides in the olive oil. Remove the chicken to a platter. Add the celery, onions and garlic to the oil and cook until soft. Remove to a dish and save.

Add the flour to the oil and cook until dark brown, stirring constantly. The mixture should be moist but not runny. Adjust the proportion of oil and flour as necessary.

When the roux is brown, slowly add the chicken stock and bring to a boil to make a gravy.

Add the thyme, salt and pepper then return the chicken and diced vegetables to the pot.

Bring the mixture back up to a boil then cover and turn down to simmer.

Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. After 30 minutes, add the root vegetables and peas.

Cook for another 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

You can also eliminate the potatoes and serve with rice or noodles if you prefer. Corn muffins are a great accompaniment.

The Cranky Gardener


06.11.03 Front Page

Back Issue Page

1Plant names capitalised for clarity.2A specialised pan with a centre cone, a dividing grid and a deep lid. I would imagine that a conventional, deep, pot casserole dish would work just as well... ed3Grill pan.

Bookmark on your Personal Space



Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Written by



h2g2 Entries

External Links

Not Panicking Ltd is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


h2g2 is created by h2g2's users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the Not Panicking Ltd. Unlike Edited Entries, Entries have not been checked by an Editor. If you consider any Entry to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please register a complaint. For any other comments, please visit the Feedback page.

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more