Let’s put together a potager this year! Practical and beautiful, a well-planned kitchen garden is a time-honoured way to add more fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs into your diet.
A well-planned potager, or kitchen garden, can be a beautiful and enticing way to incorporate more fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs into your diet. The following tips will help you plan a productive and practical potager.
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Tip #1: Pick the Perfect Spot
In my introduction to the potager, I mentioned that it is, first and foremost, convenient. When choosing a location for your kitchen garden, try to find a spot as close to your kitchen as possible. This is your personal culinary garden, intended to be used daily throughout the growing season. When you need an herb or a handful of baby green beans for the meal you’re making, they must be ready right now, not after a long stroll down to the other end of the property.
Take into consideration the plants that you are growing. Unless you are growing all shade plants, you will want a sunny location with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight every day. In really hot climates, you might want it positioned so the plants are shaded in the afternoon.
And finally, locate your kitchen garden close to water. Garden vegetables are very thirsty and you don’t want to drag a heavy garden house or buckets of water in order to keep your plants healthy.
Tip #2: Pick Your Plants
The easiest way to decide what you want to grow in your potager is to think about what you like to cook.
For example, if you use a lot of fresh herbs, you’ll want a big pot of your favourites, or perhaps several small pots nicely arranged. Husband can’t get enough of your homemade salsa? Plan to have a steady supply of fresh cilantro and juicy tomatoes nearby.
In other words, stock your kitchen garden with the fruits, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers you use in your day-to-day cooking. These are the items you will want to have convenient access to throughout the growing season.
For the most part, the same plants will have a home in both your potager and your main garden, but what matters is the type and maturity of the plants. Here’s what I mean.
Pickling cucumbers go to the main garden, but seedless table cucumbers stay in the kitchen garden. Also – if you plan to grow tiny little immature cucumbers to make small batch gherkin pickles, you’ll want those plants handy.
Roma tomatoes for sauce are in the main garden, while cherry tomatoes remain close enough for nibbling.
Beans – both pole and bush – are fabulous in your potager. Any plants that you plan to leave into autumn for dried beans, though, stay in your main garden.
Even carrots can have a spot in your potager. Plant them thickly in a large container and harvest the sweet, tiny carrots throughout the growing season. Your keeping carrots, of course, go in your large main garden.
While most squash need to stay in a large garden, plant one or two climbing, or compact bush-style, zucchini in your potager.
Anything that needs to be tended or harvested daily needs to be in your potager.
Any of the foods that you plan to freeze, can, dehydrate or put into the cold cellar are best grown in your regular vegetable garden. Generally, you don’t need to check on potatoes, sweet potatoes, keeping carrots or storage onions constantly. They grow with minimal attention and are harvested at the end of the season.
Tip #3: Make the Most of the Space You Have
Because your potager is close to the house, it is probably confined to a relatively small space. If that’s the case, though, don’t be discouraged. In fact, look up! We’ll be discussing this in greater detail in future posts.
Using vertical growing space can maximize your growing area. Baskets of herbs can be hung on shepherd hooks. Many tomatoes grow well in upside-down hanging baskets, while others can be supported along a trellis. Pole beans and cucumbers also grow very well on a trellis or fence.
Don’t forget to keep hanging plants well-watered since they will dry out faster.
Take advantage of as much vertical space as possible to maximize your growing area. Consider growing juicy yellow pear tomatoes surrounded by creeping thyme in a vertical container or use hanging baskets suspended on shepherd hooks for your favorite herbs. Just make sure you keep them well watered as hanging baskets tend to dry out more quickly.
If you have a fence or a wooden wall with good sun exposure, eavestroughing can be fastened to it in order to make a vertical garden for plants with short roots, like herbs and lettuce. You could also add a ladder-like series of shelves to house a lot more plants than you could fit into the ground you have available. The Garden Tower operates on that space-saving concept, allowing you to grow 50 plants in a very small space. Plus, it composts in the same space, so it’s ideal for a potager.
Tip #4: Make It Beautiful
Although some may argue that beauty for its own sake is neither productive nor practical, I disagree. Your kitchen garden is an extension of your home and will likely be visible to your family and guests. So, making the area as attractive as possible just makes good sense.
Good garden design requires balance, symmetry and repetition.
To incorporate balance and symmetry into your potager, try adding two matching brightly colored containers filled with herbs and place them on each side of the entrance.
For repetition, add multiples of the same plants throughout the garden. For example, a group of 3 cherry tomato plants in attractive containers will have a stronger visual impact than a single plant. You can also create a sense of order by planting lovely borders of edible flowers or fragrant herbs along walkways.
Let’s face it – we like spending time in beautiful places.
One great thing about incorporating ornamental aspects into your potager is you may find you want to spend more time in an area that nourishes both your body and soul.
One book that I strongly recommend, if you are trying to design a kitchen garden – a potager – that is both beautiful and practical, is Gardening Like a Ninja. The author, Angela, is a friend of mine, and she has put together an amazing book about slipping edible plants into your landscape. The book is full colour and packed with gorgeous photographs and helpful charts. No matter how small the space or how much you need to make your garden look like landscaping, Angela will give you what you need.