Why does the vegetable garden need to be a separate garden rather than part of the total garden landscape? With this at the forefront of my mind I’m planning a new garden in the style of a French kitchen garden known as Potager or Jardin de Curé. An old French-inspired graceful garden of herbs, flowers, and vegetables, untamed and growing together in the same garden beds.
Traditionally, a Jardin de Curé or curates garden was typically grown by the local priest in small villages in the south of France. It was a total garden complete with herbs for healing food for eating, (for the priest and to give away to the poor), plus flowers for the church intermingled in a pleasant garden space and growing in the same garden beds.
Jardin de Curé is a humble kitchen garden, with the hero being the vegetables with flowers, fruits and herbs as accents in a tapestry of plants that spill out of pots across the pathways. There is always a place to sit and enjoy the garden; either a bench or seating at different intervals around the spaces -joined by formal walkways with a fountain or urn in the centre. The paths and gardens traditionally formed a cross with many symbolic references to the church in the style, nature, colour of the beds and placement of specific plants.
The design elements in a Jardin de Curé include borders, symmetry, tripods or obelisks, variously shaped raised garden beds some taller for growing beans or corn, pathways and an accent centrepiece; sundial, birdbath or statue. The elements combine to create harmonious separate spaces that are at the same time formal, structured and orderly yet abundantly full, natural and decorative.
Potager gardens are similar to a Jardin de Curé although usually found adjacent to the large French Chateaus like Versailles, The Château de Chambord. and The Villandry ornamental garden. These gardens were more formal, with precise placement of perennials, planted for decorative effect, fruit trees, box hedges along paths and espaliered trees on walls. The Potager was close to the Grand houses and large kitchen for the chef to pick produce straight from the garden.
Potager garden is more formal with the herbs, plants, flowers, trees, and vegetables planted to create a bolder statement. Pathways, terraces, hedges and grand terraces called ‘parterres’ house stunning displays of flowers and vegetables. For example at Villandry the ‘Jardin du Soleil’ (sun garden) ‘Jardin d’Eau’ or water garden and the ornamental ‘Jardin d’Ornament’ with topiaries filled in with flowers. Underneath the ‘potager decoratif’ the decorative vegetable garden. Said to be the most favourite part of Villandry the vegetable garden is colour blocked having ‘yellow’ plants with yellow capsicums, ‘red’ with beetroot, ‘white’ with white asparagus or eggplant and ‘light green’ with cabbage and ‘green’ with lettuce.
Terraces, topiaries, obelisks and espaliered fruit trees also create the formal decorative and striking design elements. In the gardens of Villandry in France as an example, there is an ornamental Kitchen Garden built in the Renaissance style with beautiful geometric motifs of various coloured vegetables. The leeks, red cabbage, beetroot, carrots, and other vegetables are planted to create a contrasting chessboard look in the garden bed.
French potager gardens are inspiring, but my own vision will be more in keeping with a humble Jardin de Curé. A peaceful, symmetrical, space full of medicinal and edible flowers and herbs spilling over the paths. I’ll need the essential design elements to create the unusual free and abundant garden: borders, fences, tripods or obelisks, shaped garden beds and height in the form of trees or archways and garden seating.
Fortunately, the existing elements in place in the designated spot are a row of palm trees that create repetition, a border, architectural form and height; climbing roses on the fences; the front path is lined with French lavender that creates division from the current garden; a line of French roses along the front fence; and two obelisks.
The semi-formal design will fit perfectly with what is already growing and will provide that extra space to use the plants from existing garden beds – ground covers and perennials that are now overgrown. And at the same time fulfil my dream of romantic abundance in the garden where roses, herbs, vegetables and perennials all grow together seemingly as one.
As Arthur Ashe is quoted above “Start where you are, use what you have and do what you can”. The basic elements are in place that will combine to form a faux walled garden effect., separate from the existing garden, easily accessed from the front door for picking and will be especially in winter a lovely warm spot to sit outside and enjoy the winter sunshine.
A Jardin de Curé requires careful placement of the elements to create the ambience, balance and desired practical effect. It is clear how the site can be transformed with the relocation of existing roses and underplantings because the current garden has ample plants that can be moved to create the Jardin de Curé creating much-needed space and redesigning of the current garden- a win-win.
The idea of a Potager or kitchen garden has similarities with a permaculture garden – one that strives to be an authentic, sustainable, respectful, energy-efficient way to grow our food within the constraints of nature’s ecosystems and biodiversity.
By building gardens where vegetables, herbs, fruit and flowers coexist in the same space creates biodiversity and may have great benefits in attracting the good bugs and repelling the bad ones from the garden and at the same time improving yield and conserving energy.
Simplicity is key and my Jardin de Cure will not be large, approximately 8 metres long x 5 metres wide. The emphasis is on the ambience in the garden; a pleasant area to sit, an attractive, romantic way of growing a few seasonal vegetables with lots of herbs, fruit and flowers; something fresh to pick for the kitchen, and our daily meals are my main requirements -spring onions, garlic, radishes, rocket, lettuce and spinach. In winter, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts would be nice. I already grow a wide variety of herbs and perhaps a few specimen plantings of ornamental artichokes, alliums, and various chilli. The first step towards a more sustainable kitchen garden, is good for us and good for the garden.
Title quote by Arthur Ashe
All content and images by Di Baker 2021 unless otherwise cited
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