Monday, May 17, 2010
As promised, the potager garden:
At its simplest, it is just a kitchen garden. The history of these gardens, though, allow them to function as a food source, herb source and provide artistic and aesthetic pleasure to all who experience them.
Potagers can be geometric. Historically, abbey's had to provide their own food. The brothers and sisters would then care for and design these beautiful gardens behind walls. Therefore, many of the oldest and most intricate are walled. Nearly all have hedges planted to block wind, define the space, etc. Hedges lend themselves to geometric designs!
Many potagers have paths within them to connect the separate beds (either raised or hedged in). These can be stepping stones, gravel, brick... you name it.
Potagers usually include a mixture of herbs, food, flowers and shrubbery. Don't forget trees! The most elaborate gardens include espaliered fruit trees, berry bushes and other edibles. The idea of this mixture is to provide a balanced diet (people can't survive on potatoes alone or tomatoes, though we might want to!) and also natural pest control. Whidh leads to one of the most wonderful elements of the potager:
Potagers can feature companion planting. This is a natural means of pest control on edible crops by interplanting herbs and flowers that ward off predators. For example: tomatoes are helped by basil, eggplant are helped by marigolds, mints ward slugs off of lettuce. The lists are extensive and differ from source to source. Basically, I use nasturtiums, onions, mint, marigolds freely in between many of my vegetables. Underplanting spinach below your beans allows for a double crop and keeps the spinach producing into the hot summer. Any herb that has lots of scent (volatile oil) is a useful companion plant of some sort! See the lemon verbena and eucalyptus pictured.
Here is a useful link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_companion_plants
You may say to yourself, "that's a lot. Whoa. lots and lots." And you would be correct. However, potagers can also be aesthetic marvels. The idea is to mix blooming perennials and beautiful, artistically pleasing annuals in with your vegetables to get a garden plot that offers food and a visual feast too! Think of this as a place for your greens (chard, kale, spinach) and you roses. It can harbor your baptisia, yarrow and carrots. The textures and combinations are endless! Edge a bed in creeping thyme, nasturtiums for a colorful small mound, add some native medicinal beauties (again yarrow, echinacea, borage) that are tall and put a climbing pea or bean teepee in the center.
I've seen circular beds edged with gray lavender, then chard and kale and a dramatic centerpiece of sculpture or tall, sturdy sunflowers. Another element of this garden scheme is to allow plants to go to flower and seed- like lettuce, spinach, broccoli and the like. This adds unexpected structure and texture. These seed heads can last into winter. If this appeals to you, check out a book from the library, consult some knowledgeable folks down in the vegetable section and we'll help you come up with a design!
A helpful text with incredibly beautiful pictures: Creative Vegetable Gardening, Joy Larkom. Mitchell Beazley 2008.