Kitchen Garden Planning, Part One: Designing a Pretty & Productive Potager

April 7th, 2013 § 12 comments § permalink

Potager_Planning_michaelamedinaharlow_thegardenerseden I like to design kitchen gardens with both beauty & bounty in mind. Why does beauty matter in a vegetable garden? I’ve noticed that the prettier the garden, the more time I want to spend in it. Usually, the more time you spend in your potager, the more time you spend on your plants and the better they produce

There’s still snow in my vegetable garden, but with sunny days and drying wind, it’s melting quickly. I try to stay in the moment and enjoy the season as it unfolds. But I must confess that I can hardly wait to get back into my garden and sink my hands down into the rich, dark, fragrant earth. April through late November, I spend a great deal of time working in my kitchen garden. So, I’ve made the space welcoming and comfortable by adding room to relax; placing comfortable chairs here and there, and conveniently positioning a table to set down my coffee cup or indulge in a late afternoon snack. In fact, I treat my edible garden as I would any other outdoor room; enclosing the cozy space with a rustic, sapling fence and decorating with hand-woven teepees for climbers, pots for edible flowers and wicker baskets for weeding. I can’t imagine a more pleasant place  to spend my weekend hours. Tending the beds in my pretty potager never feels like a chore.

I’ll be talking more about kitchen garden design next Saturday (April 13th – 10am with Jack Manix), at Walker Farm’s first spring seminar, The Art and Science of Vegetable GardeningFor those of you too far away to attend this free event, I will be posting notes on the topic of edible gardens both before and after the seminar. Whether you grow a few pots of veggies on your terrace or have an entire acre devoted to culinary delights, there’s nothing more important to your success than properly planning and regularly tending your garden.

Potager_Planting_michaela_medina_harlow_thegardenerseden A handmade sapling fence is pretty to look, but it’s also practical for growing vertical produce like peas, melons, cucumbers. A tall fence also keeps out the white tailed deer, and green, coated chicken wire —extending from lower bar, below ground level— keeps out rabbits and burrowing rodents. The paths of my garden were lined with a weed-barrier of old cardboard and rug scraps. Of course no one ever notices my thrifty recycling with the pretty top layer of golden straw mulch.

While there are individual crops suited to a wide variety of situations, most vegetables prefer full sun, good soil, excellent drainage and room to grow. Choose your vegetable garden’s site accordingly. Shady yard? Consider growing leafy greens and herbs suited to filtered sunlight and head to the farmer’s market for your tomatoes. Poor soil or water-logged location? Raised beds or containers are the simplest solution. In fact raised beds —either natural, earthen mounds where drainage is good or constructed soil retainers built from rot-resistant wood or stone where it isn’t— are my preferred planting style for vegetable gardening in any location. The soil in raised beds tends to warm up faster in my cold climate and I like wide, deep beds —enriched with well-rotted manure and/or homemade compost— for growing a wide variety of crops. Always test your soil’s pH as well as N,P,K and amend accordingly with organic supplements. Read more about basic soil testing here.

Soil-Sample-for-Testing_MichaelaMedinaHarlow_thegardenerseden Testing your soil with a kit is quick and easy, and I recommend you do it at least once a year. Click here for details. If you think you need more information, you can send soil samples out to your local university extension service for more detailed analysis.

Compost-in-Hands-Heart-Shape-michaela-medina-thegardenerseden Making and using your own compost from kitchen scraps, lawn clippings and other organic debris is one of the easiest ways to improve garden soil. New to composting? You don’t need to spend a fortune on bins and tumblers, click here and travel back to my previous post on composting basics to learn or review the simple steps.

Chives_in_the_Potager_michaelamedinaharlow_thegardenerseden Flowers are attractive to beneficial birds and insects, as well as to our own eyes. Draw pollinators into your garden by adding flowering plants to your potager. If you grow edible blossoms, you’ll be able to enjoy both the sight and the taste of your blooms. Learn more about edible flowers in my previous post, here.

In addition to providing room-to-grow, wide beds provide extra growing space for pretty edging plants like herbs, edible flowers and tiny, alpine strawberries. More than merely decorative, herbs and edible flowers make great companion plants; attracting beneficial insects like bees and butterflies, and deterring or distracting a few of the less-than-desirables. I like to include annual flowers for cutting in my vegetable garden, where I can easily harvest a bunch for the dinner table while collecting produce.

Zinnia-in-Basket--michaela-medina-thegardenerseden Zinnia, planted in a wicker basket, decorate an old, worn-out garden chair in the corner of my potager

No room to plant flowers in your vegetable garden beds? Consider scattering flower pots here and there at the ends of rows, the edges of pathways, or hang them from your garden fence or balcony rail with hooks. Drawing bees, hummingbirds and other pollinators to your garden will help your garden and the environment. If you grow edible blossoms, you’ll be able to enjoy both the sight and the taste of your blooms, but be sure to do your research before consuming any flower, as some are quite toxic. A few particularly colorful and safely edible additions for small spaces include pansies, marigold, nasturtiums and chives. Read more about edible flowers in my previous post, here.

Heirloom-Potato-Harvest-ⓒ-michaela-medina-thegardenersedenI love the flavor of homegrown potatoes, so I plant a pound or two of many different varieties; trying new introductions and long-forgotten favorites each year. This method allows me to have potatoes of all shapes, colors and sizes throughout the season while also providing a fall crop for root cellaring. Consider how you will use your produce —immediately, for storage or both— before you plan your garden and order your seed or shop for vegetable starts. Planting too many vegetables leads to over-crowding and smaller yields. Read more about potato varieties here.

Before the gardening season moves into full swing, I like to consult last season’s journal before I layout this season’s planting plan on grid paper. Crop rotation in vegetable gardens helps to deter pests and diseases and can help to build and protect your soil. I avoid planting the same vegetables —or those within the same groups; such as those in the tomato family like eggplant, pepper, tomatillo and potato— in the same beds year after year. When rotating crops and planning this season’s garden, consider the plant family, height (for sun and shade considerations) and the nutrient demands of each crop. Avoid planting your tomatoes in the shade of cornstalks and in order to prolong the fertility of your soil, avoid planting heavy feeder crops —such as brassicas and tomatoes— in the same position year after year. Rotate crops that require high fertility with legumes —such as peas and beans— or light feeders such as herbs and potatoes, or other root vegetables. If you are building a smaller garden this year, and a vegetable bed or two fall out of use for a season, try to plant a green manure cover crop like buckwheat, alfalfa or winter rye to help build the soil and keep down weeds. You can turn the green manure crop over with a hoe and replant the space with veggies or flowers next year.

Garden-Journal-Keeping-ⓒ-Michaela-at-TGE Keeping a record of my kitchen garden is more than just an excuse to buy a pretty, handmade journal. Taking notes on successes and failures as well as the position of various crops, provides essential information for my planting plan in following years. Read more about garden journaling here.

To find out more about Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping or purchase a copy, click here

In addition to the regular posts you will find here on the topic of potager design and planning, I have a few beautiful and inspirational books on edible gardening to recommend. Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping (pictured above) is a great book, just chock full of gorgeous garden design photos and practical, inspirational ideas. I mentioned it in this post (here), and I still highly recommend it. And Jennifer Bartley, author of one of my favorite potager design books, Designing the New Kitchen Garden, recently released another beautiful and informative title, The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook, from Timber Press. If you are looking for inspiration, these titles will really get you going!

Jennifer Bartley’s The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook

I’ll be writing much more about creating enchanting edible gardens in the coming weeks. And, if beautiful and productive vegetable gardens appeal to your senses, you may want to revisit my potager page at the left (click here) and past-posts; including The Art of French Vegetable Gardening (click here) and Dreaming of Springtime’s Sweet Veggies: Planning a Lush, Welcoming Potager.

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Designing an Enchanting Edible Garden And a Workshop for Vegetable Lovers…

May 10th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

My Backyard Potager – An Edible Oasis in Mid-July

Like a butterfly flitting about the garden before deciding where to settle, I found myself drifting in and out of greenhouses and garden centers last weekend, ogling possible additions to my backyard potager. I couldn’t help but notice that the aisles of my favorite farm stand and local nurseries are filling up with annuals, perennial herbs, vegetable starts, berry bushes and fruit trees. Ah yes, it’s that time of year again. Time to plant the vegetable garden!

There are so many things I love about growing my own produce, but my favorite summertime pleasure has to be settling into a comfy garden chair at the end of the day —glass of chilled white wine in hand and dinner fixings in a basket at my feet— as I watch the golden rays of late afternoon sun illuminate the beautiful flowers, fruit and vegetables in my potager. Of course the best part of edible gardening is doing just that —eating it! And by mid-June, I needn’t make a special trip to the grocery store to create a gourmet meal. Everything I need for a great breakfast, lunch or dinner is growing in my own backyard. On sunny days, I often enjoy alfresco meals in the garden itself, overlooking the beautiful vine-covered fence and swaying sunflowers…

Heavenly Blue Morning Glories are Attractive to People and Pollinators Alike!

An Alfresco Lunch – Last Summer in my Sun-Drenched Garden

Calendula Blossoms Not Only Add Beauty to a Garden, But Also Attract Beneficial Insects and Deter Undesirable Pests…

Heirloom Tomatoes Begin to Produce in July and Continue through October

Working in a Beautifully Designed Vegetable Garden is a Treat for All Senses

I Plant Sunflowers Partly for Decorative Reasons, But Also Because They Provide Food for Birds, Bees and Other Beneficial Garden Guests

Pathways Edged with Herbs are Beautiful and Fragrant Additions to the Potager. Why Not Make the Walk to the Vegetable Garden as Lovely as the Destination?

I’ll be presenting a free seminar on the art and science of vegetable gardening this Saturday, May 14th at Walker Farm, together with owner and organic farmer Jack Manix. We’ll both be discussing a wide range of edible gardening topics. The seminar will begin at 10am with Jack covering the basics of organic vegetable gardening. Jack will review the practical side of growing your own produce; with topics ranging from soil chemistry and compost, to pest management, specialty crops and succession planting. There will be plenty of opportunity to ask questions and have a look around the farm. Then after a brief tour of the fields, I will pick up where Jack leaves off; discussing ways in which you can make your vegetable garden a beautiful, welcoming multi-use space for your family, friends and other garden guests; like birds and beneficial insects. We’ll talk about edible, living walls and other fences, raised beds and borders, vertical structures and vines, bird, bat and toad houses, companion flowers and herbs, plus all the little details that will make your time in the garden less work and more pleasure.

To find out more about Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping or purchase a copy, click here

I hope you’ll join us this Saturday, May 14th at beautiful Walker Farm (click here for details and to save your seat) but until then —or if you live too far away to make it— I have a few beautiful and inspirational books on edible gardening to recommend. Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping (pictured above) is a great book, just chock full of gorgeous garden design photos and practical, inspirational ideas. I mentioned it in this post (here) earlier this year and I still highly recommend it. And landscape designer Jennifer Bartley —who will be speaking on Contemporary Kitchen Garden Design in Wilmington, Vermont on June 24th at the Sixteenth Annual North Hill Symposium —- author of one of my favorite potager design books Designing the New Kitchen Garden, has just released another beautiful and informative title, The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook, from Timber Press.

Jennifer Bartley’s The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook

I’ll be writing much more about creating enchanting edible gardens in the coming weeks. And, if beautiful and productive vegetable gardens appeal to your senses, you may want to revisit my potager page at the left (click here) and past-posts; including The Art of French Vegetable Gardening (click here) and Dreaming of Springtime’s Sweet Veggies: Planning a Lush, Welcoming Potager.

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Gardening Seminars at Walker Farm are Free and Open to the Public. The Gardener’s Eden received no compensation, of any kind, for editorial mention of businesses or products in this post.

Article and all photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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Getting Rooted: Pretty Potatoes, Colorful Carrots, Radiant Radishes & Beautiful Beets…

February 23rd, 2011 § 6 comments § permalink

Now that I have enlarged the potager, I’m planning a bumper crop of colorful potatoes!

Radishes and carrots make great companions, not only in salads, but in the potager as well (see pelletized carrot seed planting tip/velvet carrot recipe here, and read a carrot/radish companion planting article here)

Colorful Salad of Red and Gold Beets Arugula and Feta (Click here for recipe)

I’m getting back to my roots this week… My root vegetable roots, that is. The first carrots of the season were sown in the hoophouses last week, and I’ve just finished ordering a half dozen colorful varieties of seed potatoes from Ronnigers/Potato Garden and the Maine Potato Lady (potatoes are planted when the soil temp. reaches about 50° F, approximately 2 weeks before the last frost date. Usually that is early May here in southern VT).  I’ve been enjoying summertime produce all winter —potatoes, carrots and leeks in particular— pulled up from my cool root cellar. This year I plan on planting even more earthy jewels —in every color of the rainbow— to enjoy throughout the summer and harvest in fall for winter storage. Most root crops are planted early in the season, and some can be repeat-sown for a second, autumn harvest. So, I like to plan out this part of my garden very carefully.

Potato Hills in My Spring/Summer Potager: Here Planted with Early Crops & Flowers (incluing chard, nasturtium, peas)

Root vegetables grow best in deep, loose, sandy loam. I plant my potatoes in trenches and then hill them with soil as they grow. Potatoes may also be planted shallowly and mulched up as they grow with clean straw or other materials, or they can be grown in containers; including barrels, wire cages and bags. Other root vegetables —such as carrots and beets— are best grown directly in deep, loose soil or in raised beds. I like to grow my vegetables in wide, earthen mounds (similar to constructed beds, but with sloped sides, exposed for extra planting space) which give my crops an extra 8-12″ of depth at the root zone. There are many ways to grow vegetable crops, and how you choose to plant your garden depends largely upon your site. Raised beds offer many advantages for gardeners struggling with limited space and/or poor soil. Some vegetable growers choose to adhere to a strict ‘Square Foot Gardening‘ planting plan —popularized by Mel Bartholomew in his book by the same name— while others continue to grow crops in straight, narrowly hoed rows. My approach to potager design is a somewhat looser; closely resembling French vegetable gardening in style, with cultural methods similar to those of garden author Ed Smith (I am a fan of his classic, The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, and always recommend it to my garden clients). I like to encourage gardeners to experiment with their space and adopt methods of cultivation that work best for them. Necessity is the mother of invention, and some of the most interesting horticultural innovations have come from creative, experimental growers.

Colorful vegetable crops delight the eye and jazz up the dinner plate

Last Year’s Delightful Potato Crop

I have two, somewhat overlapping careers. In addition to designing gardens and gardening professionally, I am also an exhibiting artist. And as a painter, my eye is naturally drawn to the full spectrum of color, form and textural possibilities in vegetable gardening. Sure, I grow orange carrots, red radishes and brown potatoes. But I also love electric yellow and rose-colored carrots, pink and white striped radishes, gold and ruby-hued beets, and potatoes in every color from yellow and pink to red, purple and blue. And why not? If I’m growing my own food, I might as well have fun with it. And with many colorful cultivars, the tastes are as deliciously varied as the hues.

This year I am planting Adirondack Blue and Red standard potatoes, and Peruvian Purple, Red Thumb and French fingerlings; among other varieties chosen for color, flavor and texture. As for other roots, I’ll be growing Atomic Red, Purple Haze, Deep Purple and Yellow carrots, in addition to the usual orange. And planned radish crops include French D’avignon, Watermelon, Purple Plum and Cherry Belle. As for beets? I am growing Golden, Chioggia and Merlin this spring, but if you know of something beautiful and tasty, let me know and I’ll put it in as a fall crop! I buy the bulk of my vegetable seed from several east coast companies; including High Mowing and Johnny’s and  I also order herbs, greens, flowers and gourds from Renee’s GardenBurpee, and Botanical Interests.

Pasta with Potatoes, Rocket and Rosemary (click here for recipe)

Getting the maximum productivity out of a vegetable garden’s usually-limited space is a goal most gardeners can relate to, and with a bit of creative planning, it is possible for a well designed vegetable garden to be both efficient and beautiful. If you haven’t visited this site’s “Potager” page in awhile (over to the left), you may want to click on over for a visit. I have been updating the page —and will continue to do so throughout the season— with links back to vegetable gardening articles and recipes for all of your beautiful garden produce. If you are looking for more potager ideas, I highly recommend the two excellent vegetable garden design books linked below, which I personally own and absolutely love…

Jennifer Bartley’s Designing the New Kitchen Garden is one of my favorite vegetable gardening resources. I highly recommend it. Bartley has a new book out, The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook from Timber Press. I have not seen it yet.

Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping is a title I chose to review for Barnes & Noble. This is a wonderful new book, filled with fantastic ideas for building a pretty potager all your own.

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Article and photos ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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