Gardening brings a sense of balance to life’s ups and downs, and a garden to work in is a beautiful way to enjoy being outside in the elements, intimately connecting us to the seasons and the daily weather conditions; the wind, soil, sun, rainfall, frost and heat. It is a simple way to naturally relieve stress by connecting you to the earth. Putting your hands in the dirt, feeling the sun on your back, and even the frost on these cool mornings is so enlivening and uplifting; it’s no wonder the anonymous quote above is one of my favourites.
After many months of planning and waiting for the garden surrounds to be made for my new garden area the time has finally come to start my Potager, Jardin de Cure or Kitchen Garden. I’m very happy to get out in the garden again and do a trial layout, and I’ve everything ready to begin. I don’t think I’ve planned any aspect of a garden so thoroughly before, so it will be interesting to see if careful planning pays off.
The quote above describes the mindset of a gardener who may often be dissatisfied when projects don’t go according to plan. There is always, in my opinion, a solid motivation to want to do something in the garden better than last year. Despite my best efforts, I was genuinely disappointed in some garden sections last season, although pretty and loved by the bees, they did not work in a practical sense. I am very keen to make changes. The first one is to revamp the front path that has become impassable because the lavender is overgrown to the detriment of the Merrymaker roses, not to mention the ease of access to the front door.
So my plan is laid out, the area measured and checked and now to start. Like all good projects, there are always tasks to do before you can get cracking and begin. In this case transplanting ten Merrymaker roses because they were hidden underneath lavender bushes. In the new position the short variety of Merrymaker roses will form a massed border along the fence with existing taller roses behind. The aim is to balance practicality with visual appeal and still have a full lavender path reminiscent of French Lavender fields.
It is now back the basics on the path all roses removed except the standards, lavender transplanted elsewhere and new French Lavender planted with Stachys lambs ears. Rustic new archway installed for climbing roses and almost ready for the WFD super mulch.
The Potager garden will be a rectangle with two round circular raised garden beds; a seating area with vintage marble-topped table and two chairs under the palms; a centrepiece plinth and lotus-shaped urn; two oversized terracotta pots with Buff Beauty climbing roses growing that will trail along the pool fence. Against the front of the house will be two troughs for an eclectic mix of herbs, leafy greens and colour growing with Life of the Party roses. What else do I need?
Elements of a Potager Garden
A Potager or kitchen garden firstly needs a walled or enclosed space or some form of outer boundary. The garden walls can be virtual such as a line of trees, a row of trellises, a row of sunflowers, a stone wall or a hedge, so best to work with what you have.
My area is a rectangle bordered by the pool fence, four palm trees, the front of the farmhouse, the front path, and the front gate. These elements combine to create a sense of a walled enclosure, open and sunny yet protected with dappled shade at times-a welcome relief in the height of summer in this region. Potager gardens traditionally used vegetables like lettuce, endive or tall rows of corn or beans to create natural edges. Perhaps incorporate boxwood edges, flowering plants or perennials such as lavender and rosemary hedges.
Secondly, a Potager should be in easy access to the kitchen to cut herbs and vegetables, unlike a general vegetable plot that is often away from the house.
Next, there should be a focal or centrepiece to the design. A statue, birdbath, sundial or plinth and urn, a specimen rose or tree, an obelisk or archway, a weeping tree or a bench seat, table and chairs or if you’re lucky, an old shed or summer house in the garden. The ideas are endless, and it all depends on what you have, what you can make or what is within your budget and available to fulfil your design brief.
Paths are an essential aspect of a Potager and can be an integral part of the design’s visual appeal by directing your vision to the focal areas of the garden. Many ancient Potager gardens were designed around symbolic shapes that held meaning and were often in the form of a cross. See more here from my previous post. Be mindful of planning pathways, so they are wide enough to get in and out for maintenance and harvest.
Lastly, Raised garden beds are a must and should be a collection of shapes that go together to form the whole design. Plan the raised garden beds to be narrow enough to reach into weed and harvest, and remember that the overall appeal of the garden will be more balanced if the placement is symmetrical, perhaps with a focal point mid centre.
What to Plant in the Potager Garden?
Planting is the best part, and a Potager is a fantastic opportunity to let loose with textures, shapes and colours in a wide variety of plants. Impressive use of varied foliage, companion and colourful plants will bring diversity to the garden. Use imagination to create a wow factor in the display of varying leaf patterns and types of plants. Consider the height of the plants and use this in the design and bring in all the design elements when planting -rows, repetition, zig-zags, triangles, circles, diagonals or even checkerboard. Use the same style of plant here and there to create a rhythm and grow ornamental grasses to add movement
Potager gardening is quite different to massed border plantings and contemporary ideas on landscaping. Reminiscent of cottage gardens with a wealth of fresh herbs, a few vegetables, especially leafy greens, and many flowers. Overall, a Potager should be an eclectic mix of edible and ornamental plants, with touches of beautiful flowers, vines and fruit perhaps espaliered or on trellises depending on the amount of space available. If space is an issue, try a vertical garden to add height with climbing plants; beans, sweet peas for colour and roses.
Fragrance, colour, diversity are essential aspects to think about when creating the new garden. The planting scheme will provide eye appeal that will be beautiful and decorative and also help ward off pests. The many and varied assortment of plants will make the garden more natural. The companion planting and annual crop rotation of various herbs, fruits, flowers, and edibles growing together, unlike traditional vegetable plots, will maintain an abundant healthy garden.
The seating area within the space will be a great spot to enjoy winter sunshine and soak up the fragrance of the herbs and roses.
Jardin de Cure Plant List
- Onions, Garlic, Alliums, Chives and Leeks
- Lobelia, Comos, Roses, Alyssum
- Calendula, Borage, Lemon Verbena
- Parsley, Sage, Rosemary,Thyme,
- Basil, Oregano, Tarragon
- Catnip, Lovage, Echinacea
- Nasturtiums, Sorrel
- Fragrant Geraniums, Lavender
- Sweet Marjoram, Salad Burnet
- Thai Basil, Perennial Spinach
- Rocket, Lettuce, Chillies
- Curry Leaf, Creeping Thyme
- Sweet Peas, Globe Artichoke, Cornflowers
Fortunately, already growing in the existing garden are most of the plants I will need so the task is more transplanting from other areas. Space is always a factor to consider as well, and perhaps restraint in not attempting to grow everything in the Potager the first year but can be rotated annually. This year I’m more mindful of spreading invasive herbs such as Lemon Balm and other Mints, Borage, Comfrey, Fennel and Catnip.
Title quote by Vita Sackville-West
Content Di Baker 2021
Images Di Baker unless otherwise cited