How to design a Potager garden – The perfect accompaniment to your kitchen garden room
There is something immensely satisfying about growing food at home and gaining self-sufficiency, now more so than ever. But the art of growing fruits and vegetables doesn’t have to involve ruler-straight rows of crops between unsightly, muddy gaps, and a constant battle with slugs or flies. The Potager garden offers a brilliantly unique solution so you can benefit – quite literally – from the fruits (and veggies) of your labour.
Simply put, a Potager garden, also known as the French Kitchen Garden, is a vegetable plot that incorporates many of the traditional gardening principles; Rhythm, colour, shape and texture are all important when it comes to planting. Creating an area that is not only productive but beautiful, boasting waves of colourful ornamentals and year-round interest. Making the Potager garden a popular choice for anyone looking to extend their home with a kitchen garden room or orangery.
The origin of a Potager garden
The Potager garden dates back centuries, recorded as early as the Roman empire. However, they perhaps met a peak in their popularity during medieval times, when gardeners would intermingle fruits, vegetables and herbs with their ornamental flowers and foliage.
A famous example of one of the earliest Potager gardens is The Jardin de Cure, an 18th century French garden in the village of Chedigny. It was born out of the French revolution when food supplies were scarce, and people were beginning to lose faith. A village priest had begun growing a variety of vegetables in amongst the garden flowers behind the old presbytery. It was a garden designed to feed the body and inspire the minds of the local villagers.
The garden follows that of Roman and Persian styles, described by writers such as Pliny the Elder, an Italian botanist born around 23AD. He details in his Natural History notes how aristocratic Roman Generals returned from military campaigns in the Eastern Mediterranean with ‘such specimens as the cherry, the peach, the apricot, and the pistachio for the public parks and their own villas’. The Roman Garden by James Lawson reconfirms Pliny’s belief that the ‘prime function of a garden was to make its owner self-sufficient’.
Today the Potager garden is considered a typically informal or romantic style, similar to that of an English cottage-style garden. Comparatively, the biggest difference is this style of garden is centred around vegetables with ornamental flowers, acting as supports to their growth. Occasionally referred to as the Jardin de cure, after the priest’s garden in Chedigny, today the expression is used to describe a garden with a jumble of diverse, fascinating plants, and mixed beds that are accessible from narrow, hidden pathways. It is a space for immense curiosity, biodiversity, and experimentation.
How to grow your own Potager garden
In horticulture, there are no rules to say vegetables and ornamentals cannot mix. In fact, it is widely accepted that vegetable gardens benefit from the addition of flowers and herbs, not least for the aesthetics that make flowering plants a beautiful addition to any garden. But also for companion planting, with many flowers and herbs protecting vegetables from unwelcome pests and encouraging pollinators to support fruits and vegetables into becoming more productive.
As with any garden, consider how your chosen site fits the surrounding landscape. Which beds and boarders receive full sun, part-sun, and protection from the wind. It’s also important to plan the larger picture, will you create a harmonious landscape of intertwining ornamentals and vegetables. Or you may prefer to create a separate area of the garden by walls that can provide support for climbing plants such as grapevines or beans.
Next, consider cultivation, planning winding paths between beds and borders in a Potager garden is crucial to harvesting your yield. You may also need to consider the width of each pathway if you chose to harvest any larger veggies, such as pumpkins, gourds, or squashes with the assistance of a wheelbarrow.
You may choose to create rectangular, triangular or even cross-shaped beds and borders to organise your cultivations but consider varying the patterns of planting. For example alternating colours from varieties of lettuce, cabbage, or chard for a more interesting display of colour.
Companion planting is perhaps most crucial in a Potager garden than any other style. Most summer annuals, such as marigolds provide a welcome support to prevent slugs from destroying your tomatoes or asparagus, and coriander beside carrots is said to deter carrot fly, or Catmint to repel aphids.