When we planned our new restaurant Ivy House we wanted it to be a reflection of the relationship between food and the garden so we looked at ways of developing the gardens around Ivy House to be a source of inspiration to our customers. However, as a vegetable garden can be a fairly boring patch in the winter months we decided to overcome this by creating a “Potager Garden”
If you know the word but aren’t quite sure what it means it’s a French term for an ornamental vegetable or kitchen garden; a garden where flowers, vegetables and herbs intermingle in groups of beds that are designed in attractive patterns with the plants chosen for their functionality as well as colour and form. The design really is down to your own taste and of course, space, as it could be formal with beds laid out in squares or like a knot garden, or perhaps more informal with a cottage garden feel.
Your choice of crops will be again one of personal taste but anything you would grow in a normal veg plot or allotment and love to eat would be suitable subject to room and growing conditions. Remember most crops will need to be rotated annually so you’ll be redesigning some aspects every year and the great thing about mixing flowers with veg is that when you harvest the veg the flowers tend to grow and fill the gaps till you plant something else.
Just a few tips to get you started:
- Plan the design on paper first doing a scale drawing incorporating pathways for easy planting and maintenance and shapes for your beds that can be varied – square, rectangular, triangular or cross-shaped. Whatever you fancy.
- A central focal point such as an obelisk flowing with runner beans, or a grapevine over a sturdy arch with pathways or lines of plants drawing your attention to it will bring your whole design together.
- Some sort of boundary is necessary so if there aren’t man-made ones use plants like raspberry canes to create a hedge or train espalier or fan apples or pears to form an attractive screen with their spring blossom and autumn fruits.
- Pick a spot that is sunny and open if possible with some sheltered areas for things like peaches, apricots or nectarines
- Pathways can be filled with gravel or bark as low-cost options.
- Use herbs such as lavender, marjoram or parsley as edging plants or even stepover apples that create a great divider, and then fill the bed with vibrant coloured vegetables like chard or radicchio lettuce.
- Larger perennial herbs like mint, sage and rosemary can take up a lot of room so site them carefully.
- Incorporate wigwams and pyramids to grow upward climbing vegetables such as runner and French beans or some gorgeous sweet peas.
- If you have the room set aside an area for a few perennial veg like asparagus, rhubarb or globe artichokes. You may be able to intersperse them with other fast-growing vegetables.
- Marrows are great in a potager climbing an arch with a profusion of nasturtiums below.
- Use colour combinations for visual impact and drama- try planting red cabbage next to common green ones.
- Intercropping with a fast growing crop like radishes and a slower growing one like parsnips or a combination of lettuce and sweet corn maximises yields.
- Plant flowers for their beauty and for the pollinators you need for your potager to thrive; plants like calendula, pink Echinacea, golden sunflowers, electric blue cornflowers, and bold yellow, red and orange nasturtiums. Underplant with edible alliums and tulips for year-round interest.