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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Inspiration: Cottage-Style Charm… Flowers, Fruit & Vegetables Combine With Whimsical Touches to Create a Colorful, Welcoming Potager…

May 13th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

A Riot of Annuals (Mixed Zinna) Creates a Bold Splash of Color in the Center of Carol Hillman’s Country Potager

One of my favorite, near-by New England farms is a one-hundred-and-twenty-five year old orchard, belonging to the owners of New Salem Preserves, Carol Hillman and Robert Colnes. Together, this couple has created a beautiful homestead, tucked into the hills overlooking the Quabbin Reservoir in Western Massachusetts. Visiting their orchard after a hike in autumn —with the sugar maples surrounding their two-hundred-and-sixty year old farm all ablaze— is one of my most treasured seasonal traditions. After taking a stroll through the magnificent old, McIntosh apple trees, I always pick up a gallon or two of fresh cider, homemade donuts and as many of Carol’s preserves as I can manage to juggle in my arms. Even after all these years, and dozens of visits —every late September or early October for more than a decade— I marvel at the simple perfection of their landscape and the beauty and whimsical, personal details in Carol’s potager.

Proving that outstanding design needn’t involve outlandish expenditure, let these images inspire you toward the creation of a garden that blends in with your surrounding landscape; capturing the spirit of place. With a vegetable garden design seminar coming up on the weekend, today my mind happens to be on old farms, gorgeous orchards and pretty, welcoming potagers. If you are attending my vegetable garden design talk at Walker Farm on Saturday (see bottom of post for details) this is a bit of a sneak peek at the visual part of the presentation. But not to worry, if you can’t make it, you can catch up right here next week. I’ll be writing much more on the subject of enchanting edible landscaping all summer long…

Where Deer Aren’t A Problem, A Low, Hodgepodge Fence Works Well to Keep Out Wandering Dogs, Geese or Chickens. A Fence Like This One Sets the Country-Casual Tone, Yet Helps to Keep Things Looking Ordered…

With A No-Nonsense, New England-Style Layout , the Beauty of this Garden is all in the Artful Details. Frog Faucet by Flora & Fauna

Both Practical and Whimsical, the Birdhouse Attracts Organic, Winged Pest Control and Offers a Bit of Charm

Annuals are Perfect Potager Companion Plants: Attractive to Pollinators like Bees, Butterflies and Other Beneficials, They Also Provide Armfuls of Flowers for Colorful Arrangements All Season Long (the whitish film on the Zinnia leaves is a homemade, organic fungicide: click here to find a recipe for this homemade remedy)

This Pretty, Productive Vegetable Garden is Welcoming Throughout the Seasons. I Snapped All of These Photos Last September

And to the Side of the Fence, a Well Planned Raspberry Patch Remains Orderly with Two, Neatly Pruned Rows and Wire Guards to Hold Canes

And Here’s Proof That Even Compost Bins Can Be Attractive When Kept Tidy and Crafted with Natural Materials That Weather Beautifully Over Time…

And With a Sweet Bird Faucet, Trips to Fill the Old Watering Can Seem Like Less of a Chore and More of a Pleasure…

Simple. Pretty.

Isn’t it Lovely? Working in This Garden Would Hardly Seem Like Work at All!

A Weathered-to-Perfection Red Stain Feels as Comfortable on this Outbuilding as Old Blue Jeans on the Weekend (Note the Bat House on the Upper Right Corner Near the Eve)

I Couldn’t Resist Including a Photo of Their Old Chevy Truck. Oh What a Beauty!

Together with organic farmer and owner of Vermont’s legendary Walker Farm, Jack Manix, I’ll be talking about the Art and Science of Vegetable Gardening, this Saturday morning, May 14th at 10am (click here for details).  And on Sunday, May 15th, Scott Farm orchardist, Zeke Goodband, will be discussing “The Beauty of Shade Trees”, from 10-11 am, at Walker Farm (read more about Scott Farm and its heirloom apples in this past post: click here). Gardening Seminars at Walker Farm are Free and Open to the Public. Please see the Walker Farm website for details and to reserve your seat.

Many thanks to Carol Hillman of New Salem Orchards for her kind hospitality over many years. Visit their website here.

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Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced or reposted without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

The Gardener’s Eden received no compensation, of any kind, for editorial mention of any businesses or products in this post.

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here (including Amazon.com book links and Terrain Garden & Home). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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The Art of French Vegetable Gardening in Honor of La Fête Nationale…

July 14th, 2010 § 5 comments § permalink

A Country-Casual Potager from The Art of French Vegetable Gardening by Louisa Jones with photographs by Gilles Le Scanff & Joelle Caroline Mayer

A Formal French Garden of Culinary Herbs, Fruits and Vegetables featured in The Art of French Vegetable Gardening (image ⓒ Gilles Le Scanff & Joelle Caroline Mayer)

In remembering La Fête Nationale (Bastille Day), my attention has turned to the French and their spectacularly stylish potagers. Louisa Jones’ The Art of French Vegetable Gardening, with extraordinary photographs by Gilles Le Scanff & Joelle Caroline Mayer, was given to me as a gift nearly ten years ago. Although it is currently out-of-print, to this day it remains one of the most inspirational books on kitchen garden design that I have ever seen. The French have an instinctive way with herbs, vegetables and fruit trees, designing beautiful, edible gardens that are so much more than practical. When planning my own kitchen garden, my goal was to create a welcoming place, where I would eagerly stroll on a hot summer day. By luring frequent visits, a garden is likely to remain well-tended, with weeding and watering chores becoming part of the daily routine. If you can find a copy of Jones’ book, I highly recommend it.

Companion planting with edible flowers and herbs is a great way to make the kitchen garden attractive both to beneficial insects and human visitors alike. Add a bench or a table to encourage prolonged visits or impromptu meals in the potager. Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead’s stunning Gardening with Herbs is another favorite title, absolutely bursting with European edible-garden style. One of my favorite images from the book, the thyme seat shown below, is but one of the book’s many great ideas for luring guests to the potager. Great kitchen garden design need not be expensive, but it does take a bit of creative thinking and resourcefulness. Keep on the look-out for recyclable furniture and containers to repurpose, or if you are particularly ambitious and crafty, visit Ana White’s Knock-Off Wood for some fantastic outdoor furniture plans and get to work building your own raised beds, planters and benches. I find my kitchen garden always performs best and is enjoyed to it’s fullest potential, when I am spending a great deal of time there. A beautifully designed space makes that easy to do…

A Pretty Destination Makes Everyday Gardening Chores a Pleasure. Inspiration from The Art of French Vegetable Gardening

Inspirational Places Lure Visitors into the Garden with a Place to Rest and Enjoy a Drink or an Alfresco Meal…

Fruit Trees, Arbors and Aromatic, Clipped Hedges Lend Structure to French Kitchen Gardens, While Ever Changing Arrangements of Pretty Pots and Herbs add Artful Accents. Images above ⓒ Le Scanff & Mayer from Louisa Jone’s beautiful, The Art of French Vegetable Gardening

An Aromatic Thyme Seat – Design Featured in Gardening with Herbs by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead

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The Art of French Vegetable Gardening by Louisa Jones
-out of print but available used-

Gardening with Herbs by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead

The Nasturtium Seat in My Potager ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Article and photographs of Ferncliff © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All other photography excerpts included in review are copyright as noted and linked below the images.

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Lovely, Luminous Leaves: Potager Purples, Reds and Rainbow Bright Lights…

January 29th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Stained Glass Lettuce

Though the wind is howling and the temperature has dropped into the single digits, visions of sun-drenched gardens and glowing vegetables colored my sweet dreams last night. The first box of seed arrived from Botanical Interests this week, and more orders from around the country are on the way. Although I won’t be starting garden plants indoors for another month or so, sorting through the beautifully illustrated packages of ‘Bloomsdale’ spinach, ‘Five Color Silverbeet’ Swiss chard, and ‘Red Winter’ kale from Botanical Interests reminded me of a particularly glorious day late last summer, when brilliant low light turned all the leaves in my potager to stained glass.

Vegetable gardens are tempting and delicious of course, but they can also be simply beautiful to behold. Let your mind wander a bit as you chisel through the ice on your windshield. Think of the brilliant colors of summer; the endless combinations of hues and textures for the dinner plate as well as the garden path. Join me in my not-quite February, fantasy garden tour at ladybug level. Glorious green spinach. Purple cabbage. Red Rumple lettuce. Heirloom nasturtiums and Bright Lights Swiss chard. Mmmm… can you taste the color yet? It won’t be long. Soon you can plant your own rainbow…

Saturated Spikes

Luminous Leafy

Backlit Botanical Beauty

Neon in the Afternoon

Technicolor Cabbage

Fuchsia Fantasy

Tangerine Tunnel

Living Flame

The Sour Yellow Swirl

Vibrant Veining

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Photographs and article copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is copyright The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Please do not republish or post images or text excerpts without permission. Inspired by something you see here? Great ! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Thank you !

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