If you are keen on growing edibles but aren’t enthusiastic about the look, installation or maintenance of a traditional vegetable garden, consider a French kitchen garden, referred to as a ‘potager’ garden. Leave it to the French to come up with an ornamental designer veggie garden that looks good no matter what time of year it is. What makes potager gardens so appealing and attractive is their symmetrical geometric beds. Within the beds, veggies, fruits, herbs, shrubs and even fruit trees are planted formally to conform to the geometric shaped beds.
The beds, referred to as parterres, are usually framed by small hedges such as clipped boxwood, or even herbs such as thyme. Dwarf and espaliered fruit trees, herbs, artichokes and other perennial edibles are not just there to harvest, they are there for their form and elegance.
Plants are selected not just for their taste, but for their shape and beauty. Edible and non-edible plants are combined for a functional aesthetically pleasing garden.
I’ve always loved the look and convenience of a potager garden, so when it was obvious we needed more gardens space to grow more veggies, reinventing this French Renaissance style of garden seemed like a fun project.
The budget for this French kitchen garden was minimal, so was the labour. Although we would have loved to use pavers for the paths and stonework or brick to make the geometric beds, we took a more economical route with mulch for the paths and wood for the beds. It isn’t as elegant as a traditional potager garden, but I think the essence still prevails.
The area was measured and a plan was made to accommodate four beds with a central bed in the middle. The beds are exactly the same shape and size. Generous three foot wide paths provide access, convenience and mimic classic potager garden style.
I'm a firm believer of sheet mulching, so no grass was removed except to install a trench for the wooden frames for each of the beds. The frames were made from 2' x 10" pine boards, treated with an organic wood preservative. We tried to purchase cedar, but due to the pandemic, it was not available at the time.
I watered inside the beds, that were still full of grass then laid an inch of newspaper on top. I was careful to overlap the layers of newspapers to totally smother the grass. The newspaper was thoroughly wetted then compost rich soil was added to each bed.
To make the mulched paths, landscape fabric was pinned down with coat hanger wire that was cut into four inch pieces and curved into U-shapes. Cedar mulch was ordered but when the it was delivered it was too pale, too big and too coarse, and certainly not suitable for what I had in mind. After contemplating it for a while, I bit the bullet and bought bags of non-cedar mulch since I couldn't find any fine cedar mulch locally. The darker and finer mulch was laid on top of the cedar mulch to create a thick 4 inch layer. The cedar should slow down decomposition of the non-cedar mulch (hopefully), prevent the lawn from infiltrating the paths. It will also be nice and soft to walk on. Weeds if they do manage to appear, will be easy pull out.
Although the potager beds encompassed only part of the back garden, the mulch was extended to the fence. The whole idea of this project was to reduce maintenance, so keeping small strips of grass wouldn't work. Extending the mulch made a more generous garden, which incorporated the two large lilacs, that now are more noticeable and are more of a feature than just background noise.
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