Building a Potager - A French Kitchen Garden
When my wife and I decided to build our home we enlisted an architect and landscape architect to help focus our ideas. For my garden my list was all over the place and one of my dreams was a kitchen garden. I grew up helping my dad in his huge vegetable garden measuring about 40 x 80 feet where he grew all types of vegetables including the best tomatoes ever grown by the hand of man. The scent of a tomato vine and soil and suddenly I'm five again in the garden with my dad.
One of my stipulations with my vegetable garden was that it either be screened from the rest of the garden or become a decorative feature of edibles among the garden. Enter what the French call a Potager, pronounced "Po-te-jey". Potagers, are how most people have gardened in France for centuries, where edibles are planted among ornamentals becoming both aesthetic and useful plants.
My wife and I first found out about Potagers watching our favorite gardener, British TV host and author Monte Don. On a miniseries about French Gardens one whole episode was devoted to potager and we were hooked! The Chateaux of Villandry in the Loire Valley has one of the largest in the world with acres and acres of parterres filled with edibles that are used ornamentally on a vast scale. Since we have a French-style house, the potager was fitting on our horticultural wish list.
Our Landscape Architectural Firm, Collins Landscaping, designed our potager encircled by what one day will become a large box hedge so that the garden will become a parterre. In the center, four curving paths form a diamond reminiscent of the logo of my wife's alma mater, Furman University. This was by chance, but we love it!.
Next, the job fell to me to plant the five large beds with good things to eat and cook for my followers, friends and family. To date I've planted multiple heirloom tomato varieties. One whole section is devoted to salad, with red and green lettuces and spinach. Another square is filled with peppers, yellow, green and red bell, jalapeno and a few more exotics. Still another square is devoted to squash: crook-necked, butternut and zucchini. A few of my more experimental plantings include egg plant, cantaloupe and a few different types of sage. In the rocks leading up the steps to the garden I've tucked in lemon and German thyme along with rosemary. On the upper path leading into the garden I'm also trying some globe artichokes both as part of the cottage garden and maybe even to eat. Now to pray the deer don't jump the fence and eat the smorgasbord!
My five and eight year old boys were tasked with rummaging through pruned tree-limbs under the supervision of my father to make tripod supports for our tomato plants. They've also helped in the planting. We've had so many conversations over the small transplants about ecology, horticulture and good old-fashioned work. No matter how you garden, make it a family affair.