A potager garden is a French term for an ornamental kitchen garden design, reminiscent of French Renaissance or Baroque eras. Traditionally, potager gardens consist of herbs, edible flowers, and vegetables planted together to make it aesthetically pleasing. Potager gardens range in style from our typical raised bed gardens to intricate knot gardens seen around many ancient castles. A well-designed potager is a functional family vegetable garden eloquently disguised as an ornamental flower bed.
Potager Annuals and Biennials
While most plants that are grown from seed and used for food year after year conform easily to the potager garden, the main attractions are usually wild flowers and a flower cutting garden. English cottage gardens display their fair-share of wildflowers freely among the herbs and vegetables, but the potager garden raises the bar and includes a wide variety of all annuals, including herbs, butterfly-attracting wildflowers, self-seeding wildflowers, and even self-seeding or bulb-based flowers perfect for cutting and placing in vases at the dinner table. Let’s not forget the delicious and decorative use of annuals like leaf lettuces and herbs for borders and show-stopping flower colors.
Biennials take just two years to complete their life-cycle in the potager garden. Most biennials are grown as annuals since their leaves are edible the first year. Biennials in the potager garden include some herbs and quite a few flowering plants used for cut flowers, such as sweet william, silverbeet, lunaria, and hollyhocks. Other biennials used as focal points or border plants include carrot and foxglove. However, cabbages and parsley also have their ornamental place in the potager.
Perennials, Evergreens & Shrubs
Potager perennials last two or more years in the garden and are not to be confused with evergreens. These ornamental and and edible plants produce flowers, leaves, and fruits year after year, but are completely bare or die back by autumn. While dahlias and begonias certainly are within this realm, consider edibles such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, that can overwinter in a green house.
Most evergreen trees, shrubs, vines, and creepers also make up the potager plants featured in an ornamental vegetable garden. Garden enthusiasts consider potager evergreens to be the structure of the garden as they make the core design, even in winter. Be wary of ivy and other noxious and parasitic-like vines, such as Virginia creeper, as they can take over and destroy a garden design and buildings. However, junipers, Christmas trees, and other evergreens provide backdrop and privacy for a beautiful potager design.
In the potager garden shrubs are used to conceal and reveal parts of the garden. Precedence is given to both food-bearing and flowering shrubs. Typical evergreen shrubs also have their place among the borders and outlines of the garden design. Potagers give room for blueberry and holly bushes while taking full use of boxwood, hyssop, germander, Crandall clove, currant, guava berries, cranberries, raspberries, roses, and low bush-like herbs such as lavender and rosemary.
Planning a Potager Garden
Planning a proper potager garden takes time and an eye for both design and functionality. You might try out design software to work with the space at hand. Remember that a fully functional potager garden need not be confined to just edible plants, nor should a functional potager be completely made up of annuals or other high-maintenance plants. The beauty of a potager garden starts at the roots, with good compost, manure, and bark at sufficient depths to drown out weeds and hold moisture, which makes a potager easier to maintain.
Next, the main concept of the potager design should incorporate perennials, which provide color and edible produce. Finally, use biennials and annuals to polish off the design and provide low-maintenance ground cover, food, and color. Don’t forget to use focal points, such as water fountains, potted plants, bonsai, wind chimes, garden globes, or other décor as hidden gems or central focal points that add a hint of sparkle and elegance to the finished garden. The best time to start planning your potager garden is in the fall by laying a foundation of mulch, bark, compost, and other soil amendments. Allow them to decompose into rich soil while you map out your garden design over the coming winter months.