Designing Your Vegetable Garden | The Best Place for a Garden

Determining the location of your garden is probably the most significant decision you will need to make. Where you choose to establish your garden is going to determine its success and ease of maintenance. Taking some time at this point for observation will lead to a better garden design. So, make yourself a cup of tea and spend some time observing your garden.

The perfect garden location is hard to find, so most of us will need to make some compromises. Don’t be discouraged; on the contrary, you are learning to pay attention to your garden, and this habit will set you up for success throughout your gardening life.

If you have an already established garden, we hope this information will help you notice some positives about your garden’s location, and perhaps you will find you can tweak a few things to help your plants thrive even more.

Below we share an extract from The Abundant Garden book, which demystifies plant types and will help you suss out the difference between your perennials and annuals…

Designing your vegetable garden - The best place for a garden


— Abridged extract from The Abundant Garden by Niva and Yotam Kay


Direct sunlight is the power supply for your garden. Although leafy greens can grow well in low-light conditions (as little as three to five hours a day), most vegetables require eight or more hours of direct sunlight to thrive.

Ideally, your garden will be north-facing (for gardens in the southern hemisphere; south-facing for the northern hemisphere), with only minor shaded areas throughout the year. If you need to make a choice, morning light is more important than afternoon light, because the early-morning sun dries the leaves of the plants, and reduces the chance for fungal diseases to take hold.

If you do have shaded areas, you can use them to your advantage. For example, in the summer, leafy greens do better if they are partially shaded.

In urban areas especially, you can also use walls to your advantage. Walls can reflect light onto your plants, increasing the amount of sunlight they receive.


As we want our plants to thrive, we are trying to create conditions that let them concentrate their energy on growing. Wind protection is vital; plants will dedicate a significant amount of energy to developing a strong stem and general sturdiness to survive in the wind, at the expense of their potential yield. Wind also steals the heat and moisture from the soil, cooling and drying it, which make growing conditions even tougher.

To shelter your plants, you can plant a perennial hedge, grow a bed of tall, hardy annuals or install a windbreak fabric. Or do all of these! The idea is not to completely block the airflow, as it is essential for a healthy garden for air to move around and to avoid stagnant air pockets. The best windbreaks allow 30–50 per cent of the air to pass through them. Unlike solid walls, windbreaks are designed to absorb and slow down the wind, but not block it completely. When choosing windbreak plants, look for fast-growing natives that do well in your area.

The guiding principle is that for every metre (3.3 feet) of hedge height, the wind effect is reduced for 10 metres (33 feet) of garden.

A native windbreak reducing the impact of the prevailing winds on the garden. Note that the garden beds are oriented east to west for maximum sun hours. | Illustration by Bianca Rocca

A native windbreak reducing the impact of the prevailing winds on the garden. Note that the garden beds are oriented east to west for maximum sun hours. | Illustration by Bianca Rocca


Trees and shrubs are significant in creating a healthy ecosystem, but they should be kept away from the veggie garden. Tree roots that reach the garden will spread, taking away water and nutrients from your vegetables, making it harder from them to thrive. Most trees send roots out as far as twice their height. Therefore a 4 metre (13 feet) high tree will send its roots as far as 8 metres (26 feet) away from its trunk. With the temptation of moisture and nutrients in the vegetable garden, some tree roots will reach even further.


‘The best fertiliser for a garden is the gardener’s feet’ is probably our favourite garden saying, because it highlights the close relationship between the gardener and the garden. When you visit your garden often, you notice and observe what’s happening to your plants. You learn how they look when they are thriving, and when they seem in need of watering or are under pressure from pests.

To make sure you stay connected to what’s happening in your garden, locate it in the most central place you can. In permaculture design, we call this ‘Zone 1’, the areas you visit at least once a day. We recommend not to place your vegetable garden at the back of your section, because as the saying goes, ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Ideally, place the garden close to your main path so that it is easy and convenient to reach.

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The sweet spot for a vegetable garden is on a moderate 5 per cent slope, to allow for good natural drainage and ease of gardening, and north-facing (south-facing in the northern hemisphere) so it can enjoy the most sunlight hours. At our main gardens we have neither a gentle slope nor a north-facing garden, and it didn’t deter us at all. 


Each garden has its unique soil profile. When a site is developed, often the topsoil is disturbed. If your garden site is temporary, such as when renting, we recommend that your garden has a minimum of 20 cm (8 inches) of topsoil, preferably with no rocks.

If you don’t have much topsoil, don’t worry. You can either import new topsoil or build it up over time from scratch. It may not be ideal, but you absolutely can create a thriving garden regardless of the soil conditions you start with.

This is an abridged extract from The Abundant Garden by Niva and Yotam Kay.

(RRP $45.00. Published by Allen and Unwin NZ.)

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