Potager (noun): A kitchen garden.
From French jardin potager ‘garden providing vegetables for the pot’.
Style-wise, I could consider most of my spaces to be English cottage gardens in all their overgrown, free-flowing glory. However, when I refer to the garden that surrounds my kitchen wall, I use the term “potager”. In this space, we grow flowers, vegetables, and herbs. This is the garden where I go at suppertime dig up a few potatoes, tug out a few green onions, and snip some parsley from my plants. This garden serves two important functions. The first is to look beautiful as this garden surrounds our house and serves as our “landscaping”. Second, the garden is meant to be full of useful produce that we can gather into a basket in small amounts as we need it. As you think about your potager, here’s a few important steps to take:
1. ESTABLISH THE SPACE
When we first arrived on our farm years ago, our now potager was a flat patch of grass and scrubby shrubs. I must have marked out the pathways and fence lines a hundred times before I settled on where they should be permanently and I’m thankful I did. I have to deeply ponder the question: how will I use this space? How do I want it to serve us? What’s the best way for it to be set up? Monty Don suggests leaving your pathways at least 4 feet wide (and rightfully so if you’ve ever tried to haul a full wheelbarrow down a narrow, gravel path). It’s also important to note how you move through the space. Do you take a certain path each time? Is your set up easy to navigate with tools or loads of compost? Does it flow freely as you work through the space? As you set your pathways, also consider the fact that people will naturally always take the shortest path to a destination whether that’s an established pathway or not. Accept this and make sure to account for it as you lay the groundwork of your garden.
2. LET THE CREATIVE JUICES FLOW
Let the creative juices flow, baby! Pinterest. Magazines. Blogs. Friend’s gardens. Gather inspiration from as many sources as you can find! Sometimes, this can be as simple as heading to antique store and finding a focal piece (such as an old statue or whiskey barrel) to use in the garden. Other times, a trip to the nursery for a large tree or planter will do the trick. Cheesy as it may be, I like to print or copy images of gardens that I adore and piece them together into a collage of sorts. It helps to keep me focused on a color scheme and cohesive vision for the space. If you’re a visual person, I highly recommend this step. Keep it simple, but keep it inspired!
3. MARRY BEAUTY AND 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. Your garden has to be functional if you’re to get anything out of it! Honor this by making sure it’s not overly ambitious, that the paths are wide enough to function in, that the garden beds are large enough to accommodate your desired crops, and that you can move organically and easily through the space. What is it that you’re wanting to get out of your garden? Write a list and ensure your plan going forward makes that happen.
Once the bones of your garden are in place and it is functional to serve you in the way you desire, then comes the beauty. This is often in the form of cottage style perennials or annual hanging baskets, but can also include extra special details like wrought-iron fencing, wooden trellises for climbing plants, stacks of old terra cotta pots, ornamental urns, or garden seating. I find that often the “beautification” of a garden requires layering. The first year of your potager, focus on the bones and functionality of the garden. By year two, you’ll be able to layer in the beautifying details and flowers. Year three, you can adjust if need be and continue to layer in more. This pattern will continue for many years. Be patient with yourself in this process: no potager is built overnight. We often are drawn to this particular type of garden because it feels comfortable, worn in, approachable, and detailed. All of these take patience.