Gardens have always been a bit of a mystery to me really. Don’t get me wrong, I love and admire them and, over the years, have come to enjoy the therapeutic nature of a little trimming, pruning and weeding and even planting a few carefully researched shrubs. But, as for garden design, well, I’ve always considered myself a bit herbaceously challenged.
So, that left me with a problem. I want to grow vegetables but, and don’t laugh, I want them to look nice…I’m a designer, ok!
A visit to a friends house offered inspiration. Her neighbour has the most beautiful potager. Voilà, that is what I need, a potager – a French ornamental kitchen garden. Wikipedia’s explanation sums it up perfectly – ‘The goal is to make the function of providing food aesthetically pleasing’. I can definitely go with that.
Now I’ve put a name to it and have conducted much research (thank you Google and Pinterest!) I’m thinking that designing a potager is not so very different to interior design, it has some basic principles to follow, and I’m a little less daunted, even excited, about my new project. I’ll share what I have learned so far.
1. Space planning – after considering it’s location in the garden (an accessible, sunny spot with access to water), you’ll need to consider what you want to achieve with the space you’ve got. Potager gardens rely on balance, symmetry and proportion – this counters the rather jumbled nature of the planting. Planting beds can be square, triangular or rectangular but remember to keep them to a manageable size to work on from the surrounding path without the need for an Osteopath afterwards. Paths should be wide enough to get your wheelbarrow down, come on – let’s not make it any more difficult for ourselves, and normally lead to a central feature, maybe an obelisk or a circular growing frame for strawberries or beans. If you have the space, the central point could be a fruit tree – perhaps even with a circular bench round it so you can take a well-earned rest after your labours – do you sense a theme emerging? I don’t approve of working too hard! Also worth considering is locating a compost heap close by.
2. Style – formal, informal, traditional, contemporary. Your choice will affect the materials you use for paths, building the beds and, of course, the plants you select. A potager is a mix of the edible and non-edible, flowers, herbs, vegetables, trees and shrubs so really, the choices are endless. For me it’s traditional all the way and I’ll be looking out for all those glorious heirloom varieties, full of flavor and tasting as vegetables should but also looking like real vegetables and not the European definition of a vegetable.
3. Planting – now, I’ve already told you I’m no expert so I wouldn’t presume to tell you what to plant where and when. But here is where to consider the interior design rules of colour, texture, height – keep the tall plants at the back and look for interesting varieties of vegetables with great leaves, and colours – kale, raddicchio and some of the red leafed lettuces etc. The good news here is that you can mix in some pretty flowers, edible and non edible, such as lavender, chives, marigolds and nasturstiums. Bees and other pollenators will love them and many attract pests away from your precious crops. In fact, I fully intend having a cut flower bed in my potager and can highly recommend higgledygarden.com for a really informative, and entertaining, website with wonderful flower seeds and great sewing tips. Benjamin has a passion for flowers and will happily impart his huge knowledge and he’ll post to France too so no worries there.
With planting, as with interior design, go for what you love, there really is no right and wrong and the beauty is you need to rotate your crops each year so you’re not stuck with the same look for long anyway.
I’m very lucky in that my potager will be high on a hill overlooking our beautiful valley and I just know that it will soon become my place to lose myself and I can’t wait to reap the rewards.