The Potager, or French Kitchen Garden
The French Kitchen Garden layout is attractive as well as productive. A potager kitchen garden is a vegetable garden in which there is a delightful mix of vegetables, herbs, flowers and perhaps even a fruit tree or two. Here are some basics for planning your own potager design.
The French kitchen garden is called ‘potager’ (pronounced pot-ah-zhay), from its providing the ingredients for potage (soup or vegetable broth).
Medieval monks and nuns also used these kitchen gardens to provide flowers for the church and vegetables for the inhabitants of the abbey. The classic ‘English cottage garden’ is a random, rampant, haphazard, wild, enthusiastic collection of flowers, vegetables and herbs crammed as close together as possible. Potagers, on the other hand, were notable for their strict geometric and ordered layouts.
The potager garden may be any size, from the ‘square foot’ garden to the royal gardens found today in Paris, or the one in the illustration. Design is usually based on square, rectangular, circular or diamond-shaped garden beds, and these are in turn arranged in a repeating geometric pattern. The plants within the beds are also grouped to create patterns of height, color and texture. These tapestries were designed to viewed from from above, from the main house or balcony.
In a larger garden, the whole garden may be surrounded with a hedge plus an arbor for a climbing vine (often roses, grapes or passion fruit) to mark the entrance.
The modern seed selections give us plenty of color and interesting textures – colorful lettuces for borders, brightly colored chard, ruffled blue-green kale, multicolored broccoli, beets, carrots with their fine-cut their leaves, red, green, purple or yellow pole beans on a tepee or cage, asparagus and colorful fruiting vegetables such as chili peppers, sweet peppers, tomatoes and eggplant.
Besides the vegetables, there are plants edible flowers and ‘companion plants’ such as marigold, nasturtium, chamomile and yarrow. Herbs also provide flowers and herbs for your kitchen. Easy to grow herbs we enjoy include rosemary, various sages, taragon, basil (can be tricky in full sun), thymes, and oregano.
The classic external barrier could be a hedge of smaller vining plants; peas, sweet peas, cucmbers come to mind as possible screening plants. Alternatively you could put up a trellis and plant it with table grapes (doesn’t get cold enough for wine grapes) or kiwifruit (it MAY get cold enogh for them at Antonio).
Whatever you decide to plant, make sure to choose varieties which will do well here. Local garden centers, gardening catalogs, and other books, such as Sunset or the Master Gardener’s Handbook should be able to help you. Make sure mature size of varieties you select are not so tall so as to cast too much shade on either your or your neighbor’s garden plot.
It may be helpful when designing your own vegetable garden to look at some vegetable garden layout plans. Finding the perfect garden plan can be a life-long quest, but it is an enjoyable one.
A very nice video
Click this link to see Mr. Brown Thumb’s review of French Potager Gardening in Chicago
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