It is arguable that the actual saving through growing your own vegetables in a small garden is marginal. Perversely, the saving may be greater in the countryside since the distributive system favours vast areas of population and often results in cheaper and more plentiful vegetables in towns. Naturally, the more vegetables you grow, the more economical the proposition becomes. To give some indication of the amount of space which plants take up: an area of 84 sqm would provide a family of four with sufficient lettuces, runner beans, peas, carrots and turnips in the summer, and with leeks, cabbages and sprouts in the winter. But of course great pleasure can be obtained from growing your own produce, even if you do not have enough space to make the enterprise really economical, and the fresh taste of homegrown vegetables is a reward in itself.
The first step is to learn how to grow a vegetable garden. The type of plants you grow will dictate the size of the plot, and this will determine how near the house it can be. Potatoes, most root crops and fruit and vegetables which need forcings, such as rhubarb and chicory, all take a lot of space. Green vegetables, such as broccoli and spinach are often well worth growing. For a busy family with little time to spare, it is perhaps better to concentrate on salad crops. There are many varieties of lettuce worth growing and a few outdoor tomato plants in a sheltered place can be rewarding. Fruit bushes can be trained along the fence or grown against a wall, where they will benefit from the heat retained and gently released by the wall.
Many vegetables can be incorporated decoratively in the garden plan. Red cabbages look striking, runner beans can be grown up a fence, and artichoke plants are visually appealing and can be used to screen a compost heap while marrows and courgettes are most attractive hanging over a wall from the edge of a raised bed. Raised beds look effective and can be worked into the terrace if space is limited; they are excellent for old people since they are far easier to work.
Most vegetables need a good depth of topsoil which is rich in humus and all need a certain amount of space. They should be grown in some rotation. A vegetable plot need not be screened, as is often suggested, for rows of neat vegetables can be attractive. Admittedly there are times in winter when they look straggly but a run of box edging should solve the problem.
Herb growing is becoming more popular all the time, since not only are herbs used in most forms of cooking, but their medicinal properties are also being discovered. They grow in unusual shapes, texture and the colour of their leaves make them attractive plants. Many herbs, such as rosemary, purple sage, satolina, rue and golden balm, can be included in the mixed border as decorative additions or a herb garden can be sited on its own. But clearly it is sensible that herbs should be as close to the kitchen as possible. As many of them originate in scrub or down the land, they can exist in relatively poor and shallow soil.
Lawn, Ground Cover and Planted Areas
Many small gardens include a relatively central lawn groundwork which sets off colourful flower beds. But where space is really limited a small area of grass will not be worthwhile, either visually or practically; a reasonable area of lawn in a simple shape looks uncluttered and is easier to maintain. Lawn running right up to the flower beds is attractive, though maintenance is easier when a line of paving runs along the edge, so that mowing stops about 400 mm (1 ft 3 in) short of the border. The convenience of mowing should be taken into account when planning areas of grass. Allow room to turn the mowing machine and if you intend to have a grass slope, bear in mind the maximum gradient of 1:1 or 45 degrees for cutting with a hand mower and 1:1 or 33 degrees for a smaller power-driven machine.
Ground cover such as heather or ivy is an alternative soft ground surfacing, especially in areas which are too small or steep for the lawn but where you want to keep maintenance to a minimum. The use of ground cover need not be restricted to filling in spaces between beds or within beds. It can be employed to create bold areas of pattern, possibly combined with paving stones.
At this stage in your planning, there is no need to decide on the specific varieties of trees, shrubs and plants. However, since all planting is important in drawing and directing the eye, you should be thinking regarding the approximate height and density of plant varieties; these should be selected for their overall impact on the design as much as for their purely horticultural interest.
The width of beds and borders will obviously depend on the space you have, but bear in mind two general points. If beds or borders substantially exceed about two metres in width, it may prove difficult to hoe between the plants without trampling all over the bed. On the other hand, beds must be sufficiently broad to allow for an efficient arrangement of plants. For example, if you want a herbaceous border which maintains a colour display for most of the year, you need enough space to arrange plants so that when one group stops flowering another takes its place