Make food production part of your landscape
In her book The Art of French Vegetable Gardening, Louisa Jones describes French potagers, or kitchen gardens, as “perfection for both the plate and
Whether grand or humble, these plots that blend charm and productivity are as appealing today as they were 20 years ago when the author penned her celebration of potager style.
The farm-to-table concept has been a cultural obsession for centuries in France, as evidenced by gardens overflowing with vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers.
In the United States, edible gardens are gaining ground in suburban and even urban landscapes.
“Everything old is new again,” says Geri Miller, founder of Homegrown Edible Landscapes in Manhattan Beach and author of The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in Southern California, due in book stores next month.
But there are differences, Geri adds. Today’s small lots lack space for the walled or hedge-sheltered garden room of a traditional potager. “Also, we’re not looking at geometric beds or knot gardens,” she says. “People want beautiful, maintenance-friendly designs that make food production a pivotal part of the landscape while supporting water conservation and sustainability.”
To have all those facets in a potager, a plan is critical, says Ari Tenenbaum, owner of San Diego’s Revolution Landscape. “Draw out the garden design, so it has structure, focal points and a perennial backbone,” he says. “That way, when harvest is done, there are not just bare patches of dirt.”
Following are potager hallmarks with adaptations suggested by Geri and Ari.
Artfully arranged beds
In a simple, traditional potager, beds form a cross pattern linked by pathways for easy access. Pavers, stones or low hedges of boxwood, rosemary, lavender and other perennials define their shapes and keep them orderly.
Today’s designs favor raised, wooden beds that Geri sometimes links with rebar or wood arches to support beans, tomatoes and other crops. In one garden, she housed a long chef’s table in the space between beds; in another, she configured beds to suggest flower petals.
The number and size of beds must balance aesthetics with how much people can consume. “The beds may look fantastic, but then confront homeowners with more than they need or want,” Ari says.
Traditional gravel paths between beds are easy to tread and permeable.
“Mulch is good too,” Geri says. “As it decomposes, it feeds the soil, benefiting the whole garden.”
For a modern look, Ari often includes a line of pavers within a gravel path. “It softens the walkway and helps unify the garden,” he explains.
Potager beds are jewel-box planting combos. Think of peas climbing a boldly painted obelisk surrounded by salad greens and golden calendulas with edible petals.
“When possible, I tie the herbs planted to what the homeowners like to cook,” Geri says. “If they want flowers for vases on their tables, we include them too. And when I can, I integrate edible flowers — borage, nasturtiums, sunflowers.”
One edibles garden designed by Revolution Landscape mixes flowers the artist-homeowner uses to create natural dyes. “Plus, the flowers draw pollinators and birds into the garden,” Ari says.
Gates, fences, trellises and plant supports blend easily with potted trees, weathered sundials and garden art.
“The look of the garden changes with the seasons, as trellises and vertical supports are put in and taken out and containers are refreshed,” Ari says.