I'm sorry Joel Salatin, but I've gotta disagree with you on one very, important point. That is, that the aesthetics of the farm DO MATTER.
At least, they matter to me. I can't help myself. It all began with Project Feminize that reared it's head a few years back in an effort to rescue my butch decorating style (rooted in my poor and tasteless college days).
Since then, I've been growing and changing (as we all do) and thanks in part to my dear friend Angela, The Parisienne Farmgirl, I've been inspired once again to continually up the visual-awesomeness of the farm.
You see, here, we're more than just creating a farm. We're creating a hub. A place. A community. Something magical.
When people come to visit the farm for fermenting or butchering classes (hey, let a girl dream here!), I want them to be transported to Narnia. Or the French countryside. Or somewhere radical like that.
And so, on top of the functional-chores of the farm, such as mending fences, digging holes, irrigating pasture, and hauling manure, I've set my eye on something aesthetic as well.
Planning a potager garden.
Which is a fancy word for ornamental french kitchen garden.
Which is a fancy way to say a purposefully beautiful garden.
Though my gardens are fenced and well maintained, they're not designed to be aesthetically pleasing per se. They're beautiful, sure, but not in the traditional potager way. Potagers are magical. Incorporating both edible and non-edible plants and flowers, they're the creme de la creme of gardens, as far as I'm concerned.
Lucky for me, Stu's a bit of a lover of magic. If he could live in The Shire, he would. So he's been totally behind the transformation of a small bit of our land into our own little version of such.
Planning A Potager
1. Establish The Space
When we first arrived on our farm two years ago, this lower section was weeds, scrap metal, and sage brush. Since then, we've revamped and expanded the chicken coop, put in a chicken run, built a greenhouse, and sectioned off a large portion of it for a vegetable garden. We've built two retaining walls, planted raspberries and lavender (ahem, twice), removed a cinder block fire pit, took a load of scrap metal to the dump, cleared brush, and layed down wood chip mulch to deter the weeds. What we were left with was a blank, and slightly beautiful, canvas.
This was the space. This was the area I wanted to turn into The Potager. It's the piece of the property where we spent hours each day… gathering eggs, weeding the garden, tending to the greenhouse. It's the piece of the property that we look out over from out kitchen window, the deck, and dining room table. It's an important showcase piece on the property. And it's time to celebrate it's awesomeness.
2. Let The Creative Juices Flow
Dreaming is one of my most favorite things to do. I like to think… visualize… daydream about the possibilities. After watching yet another episode of River Cottage in which Hugh transforms an old dairy farm into the dreamy River Cottage HQ, I couldn't sleep. My mind was raising! Ideas started shooting from my eyes like laser beams.
My husband hates it when that happens because it usually means work for him. Ding ding ding! Sorry honey, you were right about that.
I began to doodle and sketch possible layouts and ideas. Angela recommends having a focal point in the garden. What would our potager's be?
I don't know yet, lest you think I had some great plan to share with you. I don't. Because I'm still dreaming! Well… dreaming while beginning the manual labor portion of the project.
All that to say, let the creative juices flow, baby! Pinterest. Magazines. Blogs. Friend's gardens. Gathering inspiration has got to be my favorite part of this entire process. If every day of my life could be spent sipping London Fogs and peacefully walking through gardens, I'd be a happy farmer.
Angela, watch out. I'm coming to Chicago to photograph and covet your garden.
3. Where Beauty Meets Function
Our entire farm is a functional place. Things serve a purpose. Even the flowers that will be planted in the potager will be of assistance to our bees. Herbs and vegetables will be grown alongside climbing roses and bachelor buttons. What a beautiful, and yet functional, place to create!
Thinking about how the space will (and needs to be!) utilized will help determine how the beauty needs to be tempered into the space. Because I use my EZ Go golfcart for all my hauling around the farm, I had to design the paths large enough for it to get in and out of the garden easily. I'm attempting to keep the space functional to the work centered in the area, chickens and vegetables primarily, while still creating a natural, free-form layout for the gardens.
Utilizing free rock gathered from my sister's property, Georgia helped me “draw” out a rough layout of the potager and the shape of the different beds. While many traditional potagers are based on geometric shaped beds, I tend to prefer a slightly more natural free-form feel. We incorporated a few small waves and turns in the path to acquire that.
Of course, some of that was just from Georgia putting rocks where I told her not to. But let's not focus on the details of that.
I let the rocks sit for a day or two as I moved around the space, trying to be conscience of where and how I moved around the area. Were the paths in the right spot? Did the width of the beds work with my maneuvering around the space?
Mama's only hauling the dirt in once man. Once it's there, I ain't moving it again. So let's make sure that the function portion of the potager is attended to.
What's great about a potager garden is that even the beauty is still functional in many ways. Yes, I'm planning and planting a variety of flowers, but even some of those are edible! It's a lovely marriage between perennial herbs, annual vegetables, and even edible flowers.
For example, I'm including a pear tree. Functional in the fact that it provides shade for many shade loving plants and vegetables (hello, lettuce!) and provides us with fruit, while at the same time looking pretty dang beautiful.
Even the pure beauty of hydrangeas and peonies serve a purpose: providing us with fresh flowers and providing food for our bees!
Thyme, sage, potted rosemary, black eyed susans, clematis, honeysuckle, roses, peonies, lambs ear, strawberries, the list goes on! Some of the them were chosen for their function, others for their beauty.
Isn't it a wonderful relationship between the two?
We've got the space. We've got the creative juices flowing. We've got the function and the beauty intertwined.
While there's certainly no one way to build or plan a potager, focusing on these few points has helped give shape to mine.
Now, we've got to get to work.
Good thing we don't have anything else going on around here…
*cough* Calving soon.
*cough* Meat chickens and new laying hens to care for.
*cough* Finishing up Stu's school year at the school…
*cough* That little thing called ‘parenting'…
Still, today, I'm inviting my family into The Potager to plant, to dig, to shovel, to dream. And Amen.
More Potager posts: