How to Create a Relaxed Kitchen Garden Retreat

Your veggie garden can become a favorite summer hangout

Fine Gardening – Issue 191
vegetable garden
Photo: Carol Collins

Our kitchen garden has evolved over the years into a homegrown three-room space with a vegetable garden, two dining areas, and a firepit. Set apart from the house, it feels like its own little world and is a favorite spot for informal summer gatherings.

Because we wanted to keep things tidy, raised vegetable beds were the only way to go, along with some serious fencing to keep critters away. We kept the beds narrow—no more than 4 feet wide—to make weeding and harvesting easier. An irrigation system is another must-have, and ours also supplies water to a secondhand sink that’s handy for washing vegetables and hands. The sink doubles as an ice cooler for parties.

Photo: Stephanie Fagan

A pergola covered with ‘Cooke’s Purple’ wisteria divides the dining and firepit areas and provides a shady lunch spot. Christmas lights purchased on sale after the holiday make for inexpensive and atmospheric lighting. The surrounding plant “walls” that encircle the firepit area are giant miscanthus, ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea, and ‘Royal Purple’ smoke bush. These plants provide large swaths of dramatic and ever-changing views through the year. We cut the miscanthus to the ground every March, and by early summer it has grown enough to enclose the firepit with a tropical feel.

There is something special about walking through a vegetable garden to dine outdoors, picking a ripe tomato off the vine to whet the appetite. Can you think of a way to bring this “farm to table” feeling to one of your outdoor living areas? Even a potted tomato plant or some herbs near a dining area can help make this connection.

Photo: Stephanie Fagan

Strolling through the vegetable garden just got more inviting. With a dining table overlooking abundant edibles, the connection between garden and table is a natural theme for gatherings set here.

Photo: Stephanie Fagan

A sheltered nook that feels roomy and relaxed will draw guests in. This vine-covered pergola provides shade from the sun as well as a spot to hang lights for evening entertaining. Two dining tables provide plenty of room for guests. Pea gravel is an easygoing surface that gives the dining and firepit areas a composed and unified look.

The details that make it work:

  • Well-defined garden beds
  • Spacious seating areas
  • Pergola for shade and shelter
  • Functional sink

Key plants:

Giant miscanthus ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea ‘Cooke’s Purple’ wisteria
Giant miscanthus

(Miscanthus ‘Giganteus’, Zones 4–9)

‘Annabelle’ hydrangea

(Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’, Zones 4–9)

‘Cooke’s Purple’ wisteria

(Wisteria sinensis* ‘Cooke’s Purple’, Zones 5–9)


*Invasive Alert: Wisteria sinensis ‘Cooke’s Purple’

This plant is considered invasive in AL, FL, GA, IL, IN, MD, NC, NJ, PA, SC, TN, VA, WI, and WV.

Please visit for more information.


Key plants photos: Carol Collins (miscanthus and hydrangea), Courtesy of Catharine Cooke (wisteria)


To learn how to design even more garden rooms, view the entire collection:

Create Garden Rooms That Draw You In

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