Planning a Vegetable Garden

There are a number of factors that should be considered when deciding on the design and location of your new vegetable garden.

  • Position
  • Sunlight
  • Protection
  • Water
  • Competition

Not sure where to start your vegetable garden?

Click here to try a free trial vegetable garden planner

If you'd like to 'have a play' and see what you can design, why not try the FREE trial program available by clicking on the garden plan to the right. Don't worry, you won't be leaving our site, another window will open.

If you'd prefer to see what this is without doing anything, there's a demonstration that you can sit back and watch on our site by clicking here.

If you like to read and "devour" information, then read on below, there's lot's to learn.. BUT, if like many people, you prefer to just get hands on and learn from practice, then we can help.

Not Sure How to Start Your Own Garden?
If you live in Melbourne, we run hands on vegetable garden classes for beginners. See our vegetable garden class page.
Or alternately, you can complete a Vegetable Gardening Class by Correspondence
Click here for more information.

Choosing your position

The position/aspect of your vegetable garden is vital to obtaining a successful and productive plot. The position, irrespective of whether it is a potted vegetable garden or small or large ground based garden affects how much sunlight, natural rainfall, wind and competition from other plants the garden is exposed to. Too little or too much of any of these can have adverse effects on the success of your crops.

Online Garden Planning Tool

If you like to plan things on paper, try this program by Growveg. It's much cheaper than paying a professional designer, very easy to use and comes with some great additional features. I found it a great help and highly recommend it. Later on this page you'll see some examples of just what this software can do.

Our hedged summer only garden

When planning a vegetable garden, it is also wise to consider the aesthetics of the chosen location (if that's important to you). If the best location for you happens to be in the middle of an existing garden feature, you can look at vegetable garden designs that enhance the existing layout. You don't have to have the "standard vegetable garden box". If this applies to you, take a look at the garden design links.

If you don't have room and need to grow your fresh veggies in pots take a look at the growing in pots page. The rest of this page looks at ideas for those who have backyards or bigger areas available.


Once you've chosen an appropriate position consider the aspect. Which direction is it facing? Is it likely to be sheltered for long periods by close by buildings? In summer, the sun will be high in the sky, but as the seasons alter, the lower sun may result in insufficient sunlight reaching the garden bed/s. Ideally in the Southern Hemisphere, gardens facing east around around to the north and in the Northern Hemisphere, the opposite.

Is the proposed position sheltered from natural rainfall? If it is, then the garden will be dependent on you regularly watering it.

Is the garden going to have to compete with lawn, large shrubs or trees? Any of these will mean that your vegetables will be fighting much larger plants for the available food and water.

The shape of your chosen garden bed will also determine the direction it runs. If it's a circle or square, this is not as important, but rectangular beds should run east-west where possible. Why? have a look at the diagram below to see the diffence it makes.

In this example, the centre bed shown is a rectangle bed running east-west. The right hand bed, a rectangle running north south.

The N-S bed, being narrower means that the taller plants on the right will shade the others for a longer period. The E-W bed, having a wider edge facing the sun, will be exposed to more sunlight for a longer period as the sun moves through it's arc in the sky, assuming that your rows run parallel with the bed. This effect increases and decreases through the seasons as the sun sits higher and lower in the sky.

Now this all assumes that you have a flat area that you can convert to a vegetable garden and obviously, not everyone has.

This picture is food growing in the extremes, a terraced rice paddy in Asia. There's no reason why a smaller version of this can't be done at home if you have a very hilly site.

If your land has a gentle slope, your beds can run down the slope, but care needs to be take to ensure you don't have water and fertiliser run off.

Not Sure How to Start Your Own Garden?
If you live in Melbourne, we run hands on vegetable garden classes for beginners.
see our vegetable garden class page.

Vegetable Garden Construction

There are endless methods you can use to establish your garden beds. Your first decision is whether to have a raised bed vegetable garden or ground level. There are advantages to both, so the decision is basically down to personal preference. You might consider the following though:

Your budget

Can you afford the materials to raise the garden bed?

Your Soil Type

Do you have good drainage? (we talk about this on the soil page)

Your Health

If you can't manage lots of kneeling and bending, then a ground level bed probably wouldn't suit you.

What if you don't have a choice about the space you can use?

Well this is quite common. It's alright to talk about the best place and conditions for growing vegetables, fruit and herbs, but lets face it, not everyone is going to for example, rip up their front lawn to grow food (although I would!)

Don't despair. You may not have the ideal position, but as long as you get some decent light, not necessairly direct sunlight, and you can ensure a good water supply (either from rainfall or supplementary watering) you CAN still grow your own vegetables.

The basic rules are that leafy greens will tolerate less light than other plants. In general terms, plants that flower to produce fruit, like tomatoes, capsicums, chillies, cucumbers etc, all really do need some direct sunlight.

So your front lawn lives to see another day? Do you get good sunlight at the front of the house, or on a porch or deck? Try growing plants like miniature tomatoes like these Tommy Tumblers featured at the bottom of the tomato page

The best approach is to give it a go, trial and error. See what you can grow and then tailor your crops to suit what you like to eat and can realistically grow. There's no point in trying to grow a vegetable that has poor yields if you can buy it cheaper from a good source, such as a farmers' market etc. Use your space to grow what you can grow well and supplement your food needs.

What I chose and why

This is my raised bed vegetable garden at its worst in mid winter.

Initially, it was "salvaged" from an overgrown paddock, knee high in grass and weeds. Many years ago the paddock was a commercial orchard. I started with ground level beds but soon found that it was a constant battle to keep the now tamed paddock grass at bay and I was forever pulling out years of weed seed previously left to settle in the overgrown paddock. Add to this the constant battle of replacing mulch that the blackbirds kept scratching away. Note the beds in foreground, these beds had to compete with a nearby fully grown cypress and gum tree. Although both were at least 10-15mtrs away (the picture is taken standing under one)they continually competed for water and were heavily shaded after midday. These two beds also had heavier clay soils than the others. Potato crops greatly improved them, but ultimately, they were not included in the new bed design.

The solution I found, was to raise the beds using redgum (an Australian hardwood) sleepers. This gave me the opportunity to get the beds composting to improve the soil further, kill off the weeds and dormant seeds, bring the working height up to a more comfortable level and improve drainage.

I've also seen this approach, half galvanised water tanks! This achieves the same result, just using a different method.

Straw bale garden
The straw bale garden is a method of maintaining a ground level bed, bounded by a "barrier" wall of straw bales. These help to confine the beds, protect the young plants from strong winds and encourage soil life (worms etc) that start to compost the bottoms of the bales on the ground. This is a fairly cheap alternative, that has the added bonus of ready to spread mulch at the end of the specific growing season. The bales are cut open and spread as a mulch/soil improver and replaced for the next season.

For information on how to build a Straw Bale Vegetable garden click here

Wicking Vegetable Garden Beds

Wicking, or self watering beds are a great way to have compact, easy care self watering garden bed. Wicking Vegetable Garden Bed

Read about wicking vegetable garden beds here

Raised Corrugated Iron Garden Beds

Raised Colorbond Garden Beds

Read about raised colorbond vegetable garden beds here

Vegetable Garden Designs

So, after having considered the aspect and space you have to grow a vegetable garden, you need to think about the basic design. This will vary from person to person. These designs were created quickly on an easy to use online program.

6 bed layout for winter planting

This number of beds is ideal to assist in crop rotation. Don't have the space for 6 beds? Well that's no problem.. All you need to ensure is that you divide up whatever space you do have to allow for separation of different crops.

As you saw above, I wasn't overly too worried about the aesthetics of my vegetable garden. Because of the available space, I went for an organised, easily managed layout. We have a number of different style ornamental garden elsewhere, so didn't have to factor this is my design, but you can if you like.
Here is a French Parterre style vegetable garden plan:

Online Garden Planning Tool

I found designing a vegetable garden easy with this growveg program. It took me 15 mins to produce this parterre plan!

If you're interested to see just how easy creating these designs were, have a look at this demonstration of the Growveg garden planning tool in action on our demonstration page.

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