Potager and Small Spaces

May 2, 2018

By: Ron Kushner

Potager (pronounced “pote-ah-ZHAY”) is a word taken from the French meaning a “kitchen garden”. It is normally a decorative but functional vegetable garden, close to the kitchen for ease of access. There are many different styles from formal to a relaxed kind of cottage style garden. Traditionally, not only a vegetable garden but also a combination of herbs, flowers and fruit trees with an edging of dwarf boxwoods or other low growing plants such as germander, hyssop or rosemary, forming a hedge.

The original, grand potagers can be experienced in France. Versailles, Vaux-Le-Vicomte, Château de Villandry and Fountainbleau are prime examples. The truth is that today, they come in all shapes and sizes, generally walled in with every square foot of available space providing beauty along with function.

The traditional neat rows with blocks of square and rectangular growing spaces are easily duplicated with raised beds, so popular with organic gardeners. Originally, these gardens began in monasteries. Intimate spaces surrounded by high walls protected the plants from predators and weather. Many had greenhouses. Size is generally not an issue but the “feeling” is small with a sense of enclosure and a reduced scale.

Maintenance is almost always done with hand tools without machinery. Quietness is the order of the day! Consequently, the gardens are on the smaller side due to the effort of upkeep.

Every gardener must decide on what they want to create. Pure function in the harvests, beauty in the colors and texture and the blending of both.

The construction of walls in today’s urban and suburban properties is not realistic due to the size of available real estate, zoning restrictions and of course, cost considerations. However, the “feeling” of a walled garden can be created by choosing proper border plantings, trellises, kiwis, grapes and other vines, wood, reed, bamboo fencing and espaliered fruit. Vertical supports and trellises can also be used as a type of wall to support climbing vegetables like cucumbers, melons and squash. These vegetables can be intermingled with flowering vines such as candy corn vine, Brazilian firecracker, climbing nasturtiums, morning glories and others. These combinations are stunning and all will attract hummingbirds and many pollinators.

I propose that a potager can be created around a deck or patio or any other small outdoor space adjacent to the house. Obviously, there must be sun. Without at least six hours a day of sunshine, your potager is doomed! The garden design would have to be adjusted for shade loving plants which is still possible but not part of this subject.

The potager can be simply a two foot wide space around the deck or patio. It can be planted directly into the soil or created in raised beds of wood, brick or stone. In the event no ground is available, use grow-boxes as your growing space on the deck itself. These could be rectangular “Earth Boxes” or containers of various sizes or a combination of both. Whatever would be pleasing to the individual gardener. Remember, the containers will be overflowing with vegetables, flowers and herbs during the growing season and not quite so “visible” as when they are empty and not yet planted.

Vary your plantings throughout the border so that the space contains vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit in any combination and with varying heights throughout the design. Depending upon the square footage of your planting area or the amount of your containers, the amount of plants you could grow will always be far greater than your available space.

My own deck is hexagonal and I created six, two foot wide raised beds along each section for a total of forty eight square feet of planting area. That square footage was enough to grow in one season: (4) tomato plants, melons, (4) pepper plants, zucchini, cucumbers, oregano, parsley, dill, cilantro, marigolds, nasturtiums, alyssum, strawberries and (3) varieties of lettuce.

Be creative with your planting and realistic about your available space. Sketch out your planting area and plan what is to go where. Keep track of your success (and failures). Next year, amend your design accordingly.

With minimum effort & maintenance you should enjoy a season long harvest, a pretty border and many enjoyable times in your own potager!
For questions or comments: ron@primexgardencenter.com