by Katie Kroeker, Pacific Ridge Landscapes –
We are in the thick of vegetable gardening prime time! Facebook and Instagram are flooded with gardening photos and DIY advice. West Coast Seeds has even downgraded their seed packets in order to expedite their production to meet pandemic demand!
Now that your veggies are in and growing their little hearts out, have you ever looked at your raised veggie beds and wondered if they could look a little nicer? Maybe a little less wild and free and a little more elegant?
The good news is, there are centuries of people that have said, “Veggies, but make it pretty!” The ancient Egyptians were renowned for their beautiful and highly productive gardens, and since then, people have been looking for ways to create something beautiful and edible. The Italians and the French popularized the formal, geometric parterre gardens, where everything was edged with boxwood and the plantings were symmetrical and quadrilateral.
Planting a potager garden is a lovely and accessible way to integrate design into your veggie garden. Roughly translated, “potager” means “for the pot” and is a more casual approach to garden design than the formal parterre. A potager garden is a kitchen garden that has some sense of order and design; it could be circular or rectangular, perhaps with an obelisk in the centre or paired on either side of a pathway.
Potager gardens open us up to ideas beyond raised cedar beds. Potager garden beds are still clearly defined, but not necessarily raised. Often they are bisected by a path. Lettuces, herbs and other small vegetables can be planted directly in the soil. These beds need to have good soil; they must be well drained but they don’t need to be as deep as a raised bed. Ideally these little matching beds (square or pie shaped) would have some type of border around them: parsley, lavender, greens, even perennials like marigold work.
Raised veggie boxes are most helpful for deep rooted vegetables: potatoes, carrots; beets etc. – all the veggies that grow underground and need the extra depth and guaranteed drainage to prevent them from rotting. The problem with, for example, three raised veggie beds in a row, is that they are quite bossy in a space, and often don’t fit in with the rest of the garden aesthetic. I totally understand that garden style isn’t the point with a veggie garden, but it can still be part of the conversation.
If you don’t have room for a pretty potager, why not plant your lettuces in with your perennials? Or your peppers or gourds? Think how great the zucchini foliage (big, heart shaped leaves) would look surrounded by echinacea or black-eyed susan and other perennials. Coloured lettuces, chard or other greens could make a lovely accent or border for an existing garden bed and why not send your peas up an obelisk in the middle of a sunny bed?
The movie It’s Complicated features a beautiful potager garden that is guaranteed to inspire you. (A quick internet image search will bring up photos – it’s a classic!) Tanner’s Books here in Sidney also has a number of books on kitchen gardens and I especially recommend Jennifer Bartley’s book Designing the New Kitchen Garden for a deep dive with pre-drawn designs, crop rotation plans and amazing planting ideas.