The traditional layout for kitchen gardens was established many hundreds of years ago. Called the “four-square” design, it is based on the intersection of two major paths within a symmetrical, enclosed area; in the days before irrigation it usually included a central well or spring.
Many of the early examples of this traditional kitchen garden layout were monastic gardens, and while there were perhaps religious and symbolic reasons for the creation of this form, over the centuries its inherent efficiency has gained it a place in the secular world as well.
Vegetables (and fruits and flowers and herbs) were grown in raised beds marked out by the permanent paths. The four equal-sized plots that resulted made crop rotation and planning easy. The diversity of the plantings not only made balanced demands on the soil, but preserved the natural balance of the garden’s animal life-small mammals, insects, amphibians, and birds-an important factor in keeping pest problems under control.
American kitchen gardens have, on the whole, been much less formal. From the beginnings of colonization there has been less emphasis on strict training of the plants, but the efficiency and utility of the class four-square layout has been largely preserved. Americans have adapted, and should continue to adapt, this traditional design to the particulars of their lives and their land.