“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant“
An abundance of butterflies, green buds and fresh growth lends an air of optimism to Spring. Everything seems lighter and more fresh, with the promise of new growth and a clean start. We at Lifestyle Home Garden are excited to discuss Potager gardens and the beauty they will infuse into your garden in this new season. We had the privilege of getting first hand help and ideas from Jane Griffiths, South Africa’s vegetable garden guru! We hope you enjoy.
A Potager garden is one in which vegetables, herbs and flowers are planted in an aesthetically pleasing way. The term Potager is French and translates to an ornamental kitchen or vegetable garden. Floral elements are incorporated into the garden plan and can be chosen for their edible or purely visual qualities.
Potager Gardens date back to the French Renaissance. They bring together the elements of a parterre garden and a vegetable garden. A parterre is a garden laid out in a formal style, with interconnecting paths which lead to hedged beds. The beds are filled with flowers and mulch, and the paths traditionally comprise grass or gravel. Combining the parterre and the vegetable garden brings together aesthetic and function.
So what are the basic steps in your home garden?
- Choose a space that is close to your home. A potager garden is best enjoyed when it can be seen from the inside too.
- Ensure the space you choose gets 6 to 8 hours of sunlight daily. Most vegetables and flowers will benefit from this. Leafy green vegetables such as kale and lettuce will do well in the shade.
- Think about the layout you would like. Many potagers are laid out in four raised rectangular beds. But you may wish to make a more flowing layout with round or oval beds. Or you may wish to create a circular pinwheel or spiral shaped garden.
- Decide on the way in which you want to enclose your plants. Do you want wooden box shaped raised beds? Do you want a more natural hedge of berries?
- Plan your pathways. A pathway should be wide enough for a wheelbarrow, and comfortably allow foot traffic. Paths can be made from stepping stones, gravel, bark, mulch, grass, and even straw.
- Condition your soil. You will need to add lime and other soil conditioners to your beds. If you are planning to use raised beds, you will need a loamy aerated soil, well fertilised. It is well worthwhile the effort to source well rotted organic compost made of horse manure or chicken manure.
- Consider adding some form of garden decor. A large focal point is easily achieved using a centrally placed triangular trellis or garden orb. A bench adds a place to rest. A beautiful arch is both a formal element of height and can serve as a trellis for climbing plants. A fountain or bird bath adds the calming element of water, and will bring even more wildlife to your garden.
- Incorporate evergreen plants. Remember that in the winter months you will still want your garden to uphold its beauty. Shrubs and topiaries can be used as focal points to keep the green thoughout colder months.
Now for the exciting part! Choose your plants
Split your plants into vegetables, herbs, and flowers; both edible and non-edible.
Vegetables should be chosen according to what you eat most often. It’s a good idea to think what you would put on a table for dinner, and choose those to grow. Beans, salad ingredients, peppers, onions and courgettes are staples. Carrots come in wonderful colours and variants. The brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts) come in a multitude of exciting colours and shapes and will add texture and interest to your potager garden. Peas are stunning trained up trellises and add valuable nitrogen to the soil, which many other plants deplete. Pop some radish seeds wherever you have space- they grow incredibly quickly and are so gorgeous to harvest.
Herbs are fantastic both for their fragrance and ability to lift many dishes. Hardier bush-forming rosemary and lavender are staples- add , coriander, mint, parsley and an assortment of thymes. Lemon balm, chives and lemon verbena are also great additions. Mint can take over a bed, so you may choose to contain it in a pot placed outside the bed. The purple flowers of lavender and the pink scatterings of colour from thyme flowers welcome bees and other beneficial insects. Don’t forget basil as a summer staple!
Pollinators flock to a garden scattered with colourful flowers. Edible varieties include chamomile, violet, pansy, nasturtium and rose. Your fruit and vegetables benefit from bees and other pollinators, so it is worthwhile to include flowers at the edges of beds. Sunflowers and climbing jasmine make striking additions to any Potager and will lend height and interest. Hassle-free morning glories tumble beautifully out of beds and show their magnificent pink or purple colours in the early hours.
“Companion planting is not an exact science. It is more about observing and following natural patterns. For example, if you want to attract beneficial insects into your garden then include a variety of flowers, such as buckwheat, California poppy, cornflowers, cosmos, evening primrose, nasturtiums, sweet alyssum and violas. Different insects are attracted to different colours, scents and patterns. By growing a wide variety of flowers throughout the year, you will provide a continual supply of nectar and pollen.
Leave some vegetables to flower as these attract a range of insects. Bees love the yellow flowers of broccoli and mustard. Hoverflies are attracted to the flowers of carrots, fennel and lettuces. Butterflies love onion flowers. And don’t forget to interplant herbs amongst your vegetables. Many of these have flowers that pollinating insects love, such as yarrow, dill, fennel, lavender and rosemary. Others simply attract certain insects, such as tansy, which is a magnet for ladybirds.”
Think about height too…
Many plants are low growers, but with some thoughtfully purchased seed and with some planning, your Potager can be multidimensional and interesting to look at. Seed packets, like those from Livingseeds, Raw and Franchi Sementi explain how indeterminate plants can grow as tall as you allow them to, producing as much fruit as is possible in one season. You can also click |HERE| to read our seed sowing guide.
Determinate varieties are often bushy shrubs, compact and neat, producing only a certain amount of fruit. A common example of this is an indeterminate tomato variety will grow up a trellis or arch. It will need staking and training and will last until it is killed by frost. A determinate tomato will grow to a certain height, set fruit within a two to three week period, and die back. These varieties are better suited to pots and should not be suckered or pruned back.
How do You Arrange Your Potager Garden?
The most common formation is four box shaped beds with pathways in between. Let creativity and your own needs direct your planning. Interplant vegetables with floral borders, or choose to theme each bed by colour. Rhythm and repetition are commonplace in a Potager, but there are no rules.
Jane told us how she plans her beds for planting:
“The main rules are getting to know what your plants need and knowing your microclimate – I know when to plant tomatoes out so they don’t get frosted. As far as formulating plans, I sketch everything out on paper and use numbers to show what has been planted where (this suits my jungle style better than plant markers.) I then transfer this to my online Garden Planner.”
Some examples for your own beds:
- Squashes are friends with corn, peas, melon, and peppers, as well as marigolds and nasturtium, but do not like brassicas.
- Another bed can be planted up with sunflowers, corn, melon and thyme.
- Echinaceas are a top choice for any bed with their droopy petals and vivid colours.
- Don’t be scared to plant a lemon tree in the middle of your beds. It will create uniformity especially in a more formal potager garden.
As for Jane’s expert advice, she recommends the following combinations for a fresh summer mix:
- With tomatoes, basil is the best.
- Summer squashes: I like to plant radishes and leave them to go to seed. These attract beetles away from the squash.
- with cucumbers plant Marigold, dill and nasturtium.
- peppers enjoy basil.
- lettuces love parsley, pansies, spring onions, chives.
- carrots want basil, parsley, sage.
What is the best way to water your potager garden?
Jane recommends drip irrigation. “It’s the best. And don’t water often shallowly – rather water deeply less often. Water early in the morning or after the sun has set (in summer months).”
What is available?
We at Lifestyle sell a myriad of seedlings and seeds. Seeds are a great option if you want a huge variety at your disposal. We are excited about our growing range of heirloom vegetable seedlings too. Heirloom seeds are seeds that grow varieties that are 60 years of age or older. Raw and Franchi Sementi are examples of heirloom seeds that Lifestyle sells. The herbs, vegetables or fruit which are grown from heirloom seeds can be harvested for their seed, to be grown again, and will produce the exact same fruit or vegetable again.
How do you know when to use seeds and when to use seedlings?
Jane gave us some advice:
“I use a combination of both. Seeds provide a much wider variety of choice and they are much cheaper than seedlings. However, some plants are more difficult to germinate than others – parsley for example. So in that case seedlings are easier. I also use seedlings if I have not followed a succession planting with my seeds. For example – if I have not had time to sow lettuce seeds and all my lettuces are starting to bolt, purchased seedlings will provide a quicker harvest.”
Did you know?
King Louis XIV wanted his elaborate fruit and vegetable gardens close to the Palace of Versailles so that he could enjoy them and walk around in them. He enjoyed gardening immensely and took it upon himself to learn to prune the fruit trees.
Try vegetables you may not have tried before, such as okra or kohlrabi, and herbs you may not have used before, such as lovage. Fennel is both an amazing root vegetable and it’s leaves lend a fragrant zingy taste to salads. Potatoes and garlic are crops you may never have tried before, but they are well worth the long growing period (click |HERE| to read all about growing and harvesting potatoes in your garden).
Important to note:
Crop rotate on a yearly basis. This helps prevent build up of bugs. Also remember the point of a Potager is to feed body and soul. Enjoy the process and make it completely your own!
Further Reading on Potager Gardening:
For more information on how to create this beautiful style of garden, click on the following |LINK|
A huge thank you to Jane Griffiths for her time and contribution to this blog. Some photos in this blog are courtesy of Jane Griffiths and Keith Knowlton.