Please don't anyone come and look at my vegetable garden. It's in a state of total neglect and the only things growing in it are a handful of rogue carrots and a smattering of self-seeded tomatoes and weeds.
I'm one of those dippy gardeners who loses momentum after summer and I spank myself for it every year. The best thing about growing your own vegetables is, of course, to be self sufficient, and to be able to choose something fresh for dinner every night, whatever the season.
But for a garden to sustain you all year round it has to be well planned, and if you have the luxury of starting a vegetable garden from scratch, you can make it work very well.
For me, any kind of garden has to have a bit of style, fit in with the architecture of the house, and look as though it's part of the wider garden. Our raised vegetable beds are made of timber that matches other timberwork in the garden, and the nearby garden shed is plastered to match the house. I like to include herbs and plants in terracotta pots to further our faux Mediterranean theme and, when I get around to it, there'll be a couple of chairs and a table out there as well, so we can call encouragement to the vegetables while enjoying a glass of wine.
Although plenty of people successfully grow vegetables year-round flat on the ground, few who have tried raised beds would want to give them up. Provided they're the right height and width they are comfortable to work in, they make it easier to condition the soil and they're easier to keep tidy. And in our neck of the woods, it takes the kikuyu longer to grow up the sides, which is a serious consideration.
When you're planning raised beds you can make them to measure, so figure out the optimum height for you to work at, and the optimum width for being able to reach from each side into the centre.
There's nothing worse that finding you have a 20cm strip you can't get at.
If you're having more than one bed - and I'd certainly recommend it - decide whether they're going to be in rows, in a square, or in a line. This will depend largely on the space you have but squares, U shapes and L shapes are nice to work in and give you a number of design opportunities. I also like the idea of a wall on the south side to provide a sense of enclosure, and to give you somewhere you can espalier a fruit tree, hang tools and grow climbing plants. It will shelter the beds from southerlies and provide passive solar heating too.
Don't neglect to make paths between beds - gravel, scoria, crushed shell or chip are fine. Spray the vegetation first, lay weed mat if you want, and then add your covering of choice.
Unfortunately, there's no secret formula to tell you what to plant where. Many different crop layouts can work for a particular garden and factors beyond your control, such as weather and pests, will have more effect than whether you've put leeks next to carrots. Let common sense prevail.
Heat hugging plants: Tomatoes, their best friend basil, peppers, eggplant and the like are fussy about temperature. Give them first choice of the sunniest spots.
Roaming plants: Position plants that like to wander off - melon, courgettes and cucumbers - on the edge of your beds so their big leaves don't cover your other plants. Let them clamber out of the beds and across the paths.
Upwardly mobile plants: Anything that grows up supports needs to go where it won't cast shade on its mates. At the back of the bed is good, because you'll be able to attach trellis or other supports.
Confuse pests: Large areas of a single crop will attract pests, whereas mixed planting can confuse them.
Grow plants to attract insects: A number of well-known flowers attract beneficial insects that will naturally control pests.
Leave space: Take care not to overcrowd plants. New gardeners often do this (and some old ones too) because the plants are so small as seedlings that the garden looks underplanted. It's not.
Leave even more space: If you become committed to growing vegetables you'll probably want to expand your garden in the future. So leave space for extra beds, a plastic house, compost bins, a tool shed.