Potager vs. Kitchen Garden

lavender_lass(4b)September 25, 2009

It says at the top of this forum, that potagers are "the French counterpart to the English kitchen garden, with an emphasis on growing vegetables".

My question is, do potagers ever have a less formal form? The ones I see in the books are usually based on monastic gardens and very formal, or consist of a lot of raised beds. Is there ever a more informal type of potager? I like the idea of flowers, herbs and fruit mixed in with the vegetables, but living on a farm makes it difficult to apply such a structured layout, not to mention I have to leave room for the snowblower in the winter. This makes gardens near the front or back doors almost impossible :( Any other suggestions? Love to see pictures, too!

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natal(Louisiana 8b)

My kitchen garden is very informal. It has a little fence (from Lowe's) and an arbor. The paths are lined with pine straw and the bricks that form the beds are set in place with dirt, not mortar.

February 2009...

May 2009...

    Bookmark   September 25, 2009 at 7:06PM
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I have a book "Kitchen Gardens of France" by Louisa Jones. It shows gardens around manor houses that are very formal with paved paths & geometrically laid out beds to very informal work-a day gardens built in random patterns to fit the site & using salvaged materials for garden construction. It seems that the 2 common things to both extremes are: the plants are grown in permanent defined beds rather than rows in a garden plot & there is a network of well defined paths around & thru the beds.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2009 at 7:24PM
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Natal- I love your garden! It's so pretty and functional. How big are your beds? Does the brick help warm up the beds in the spring? What a beautiful garden :)

Wirosarian- Do you have a potager? I'd be interested to know what vegetables, herbs and fruit do well in zone 4 for you. Thanks for the book recommendation.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2009 at 4:17PM
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I have a small potager. Mostly stuff for fresh eating, no preserving/keeping except for shallots. I've have 2 plum trees, one would provide enough but need 2 for cross pollination. Also 2-3 tomato plants, lettuce (bibb & batavia types), a salad cuke, a zuc, a flat Italian type string bean, nasturiums (both edible & pretty), flat Italian parsley, Geneovese sweet basil, chives, Greek oregano, thyme, glads, zinnias, and as indicated by my user name, several mini roses. I also have one area by a fence that has a perennial bed mixed with some hardy shrub roses. So you see nothing too exotic but each year I make it a point to try something new, this year I planted a Stevia plant.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2009 at 12:55PM
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Wirosarian- it sounds like you have a lovely garden. What an amazing amount of plants for a small potager. Two plum trees? How nice, do you have any pictures?

I wish I could plant more roses, but the deer seem to find any that are not in front of the house. I've hidden a few behind lavender and other deer resistant plants, which are doing well so far.

What hardy shurb roses do you have? I have one miniature rose, I think it's called Innocent...it was the only zone 4 rose I could find. Do you have much problem with cold winters? Also, what perennials do you mix with your shrub roses?

    Bookmark   September 27, 2009 at 1:20PM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

Lavender, the beds are 3'x9'. The center path is 4' wide and the others are about 3'. The bricks help contain the soil and give me raised beds. Since I'm in the deep south our soil never gets cold. I can pretty much grow something year round.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2009 at 4:17PM
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Natal- You're so lucky! How envious I am of your ability to grow things year round :)

We already had our first frost last week, so my garden is pretty much done for the year. I still have a few perennials blooming, but the vegetables are all gone.

I think one reason I'm having trouble with designing my own potager is that I'm trying to grow too much in my very limited gardening season. Perhaps I should divide the "kitchen garden" from the "garden for winter produce" which is for freezing and storing. It is nice to have a smaller garden to just go pick things for dinner as you need them throughout the summer. Oh well, I have all winter to decide on my garden plan :)

    Bookmark   September 28, 2009 at 12:25PM
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l. lass

Let me give you 3 definitions that might help. I'm guessing some other gardeners may have differing views but this is what I've come up with in looking over some info.

Kitchen Garden (KG)---a KG is a small garden located in close proximity to the kitchen. It is ideally located by the exterior door nearest the kitchen & should be visible from a kitchen window--"out of sight, out of mind, not used". The KG is used to grow small quantities of things that the cook will use in the immediate prep & serving of a meal. Thus 2-3 tomato plants but not 2-3 doz. tomatoes, a salad but not pickling cuke, a summer but not winter squash or pumpkin, lettuce & anything else used in a fresh salad, etc.

Main Garden (MG)---A MG is a large garden usually more distant from the house where you grow large quantities of things for storage & preservation. Here you'll have 2-3+ doz tomato plants, pumpkin patch, potatoes, berry patches,fruit trees, etc.

Potager---A potager is more of a design element for a veg./herb garden. The 3 things that seem to define a potager are: (1) It is enclosed using some combo of fences, hedges, retaining walls or exterior walls of a building & has a gate(s). (2) Plants are densely planted in fixed beds. Plants that sprawl or vine are usually grown on some kind of support so they don't take up too much space. Think "Squarefoot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew.(3) There is a fixed set of paths around & thru the beds. How fancy & ornate you want to make it is up to the preferences & usually the finances of the individual gardener.

Thus I believe that both a KG or a MG can be designed to be a potager, but they're not always a potager.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2009 at 5:32PM
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Wirosarian- You are such a help! Thank you for taking the time to do some research for me :)

That has been my problem, exactly. I'm new to gardening for myself (usually just help up at Mom's) and I don't know what direction to take. I like the idea of a separate kitchen garden and main garden. Both could have elements of a potager, maybe the kitchen garden could be smaller and a little fancier and the main garden could have a gate with an arch over it and a few vertical elements.

This gives me a lot to think about during the coming winter. Hopefully, by next spring, I'll have figured out what I want to do and what I can fit into my space. I also need to be realistic about what I can maintain :)

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   September 28, 2009 at 8:53PM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

natal, your garden is beautiful! I am especially impressed with the obvious health of all your plantings. Tell me, how do you control blights on your tomatoes?

    Bookmark   October 5, 2009 at 9:17AM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

Donna, thanks! I was real pleased with how it turned out.

I'm not even sure I know what blight is. I grow all of my tomatoes from seed. I mulch with compost and pine straw, but I don't rotate. Well, except for this year since the garden layout was new, but tomato plants were still in the same general area as the past 23 years.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2009 at 11:51AM
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I think I have a design for next year. Due to limited space, I've decided to combine the kitchen garden and main vegetable garden together. I'm going to have six beds (two wide, three deep) that are 8' x 8' with permanent grass paths (3' to 4' wide) between them. I plan to put up a 4' tall lattice fence, with a black metal arch over the front gate and a taller side gate without an arch.

Next, purple and red raspberries along the outside of the fence, on either side of the taller gate. There are already lilacs along the back side of the garden space and sheds on the other side. Even so, there is hardly any shade in this area all day long. Along the front of the garden, I'm going to try rugosas, but if the deer find them, I'll move the roses and put blueberries.

The front two beds will be for the salad type vegetables, such as tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, carrots, etc. This would be the kitchen garden I think, with permanent paths (L-shaped) running through them. Maybe I can finally use the old bricks I've been saving :) I have two black metal obelisks, I guess they're called, about three feet tall with a little bird on top (I got them from Lowe's). I plan to use these in the two front beds.

For the two middle beds one will be for summer squash, melons and mini-pumpkins and gourds. The other will be for pole beans, broccoli and peas. I had a bean teepee this year and the kids loved it. To keep the smaller squash and mini-pumpkins off the ground, I have the top of a metal arbor, with four legs (it used to connect to six foot metal pieces, but without them looks something like a two foot tall, four-legged spider). It sounds strange, but my Mom used it last year and it looks really cool. This is definitely the kids area!

The back two beds are for corn in one bed and potatoes and bush beans in the other (they're supposed to make good garden companions). I hope to grow some acorn squash in with the corn. For paths in the back beds, I'm just planning to use hay to walk on between the veggies. The pumpkins got so big this year, I think I'm going to put them and the sunflowers in their own area in the back yard, beside the fence :)

Thank you all for the suggestions and I want you to know I really appreciate it!

    Bookmark   October 5, 2009 at 8:54PM
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This is a great thread. I'm a landscape designer and often have suggested that my clients include a potager garden. Wirosarian's description of the various versions of kitchen gardens is wonderful! I've not actually designed a potager yet (as in plant for plant... only the space and shape it will occupy and it's relation to the rest of the landscape). I think designing a couple 'typical' plant lists for potagers shall be on my list of things to do during the slow winter season.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2009 at 7:56PM
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Change of plans :)

Thank you all for the great pictures and ideas! After talking to Mom, I have decided to do a real potager and she is going to do some of the bigger crops (and the "spider") at her place. LOL

See Provence Gardens for more info...and please give me some ideas! I can really use the help, especially with my "provence garden" :)

    Bookmark   November 9, 2009 at 11:33PM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

Be sure to share pics!

    Bookmark   November 11, 2009 at 2:13PM
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Natal- What is so tall in your left middle bed? That looks really interesting. Also, what is that beautiful purple flowering tree(?) in the background? You have a beautiful garden!

    Bookmark   November 11, 2009 at 4:48PM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

Thanks for the compliment!

Believe it or not, that's a Sun Gold cherry tomato. Those vines get huge! Shortly after I took that photo they probably started to drape down and it's a good thing because otherwise I would've needed a ladder to harvest, lol.

The purple blooms in the background are a Vitex or Chaste tree.

Here is a link that might be useful: Vitex

    Bookmark   November 12, 2009 at 7:50PM
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That's a neat tree. I wish I could grow that here! It looks like a combination of a butterfly bush and a lilac, but the flowers almost look like purple stock. Very cool :)

    Bookmark   November 13, 2009 at 10:59AM
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