Deep in the rolling hills of Normandy, France, the plateaued landscape surrounding the 17th century castle Château de Bosmelet has nurtured a traditional potager for nearly 300 years. Originally designed in 1715 under the direction of Colinet (a gardener who worked for André Le Nôtre, Louis XIV’s landscape architect), the garden has since grown into an expansive kitchen garden that’s flourished to provide gastronomical and visual pleasure for its successive residents.
The current owner, Baroness Laurence de Bosmelet, has used vividly coloured vegetables like ruby red chard, dusky purple cabbage and edible yellow chrysanthemums to create long rows of colour-coordinated plantings, earning the garden the title Arc-en-Ciel (French for rainbow). Its high standard of imaginative colourful design won it a gold medal at the 2000 Chelsea Flower Show.
Within warm brick walls espaliered with pear trees, four formal quadrants are laid out with long rows of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers grouped by colour. The garnet bed is remarkable for its sweet red peppers and crimson basil; the amber bed mixes mahogany nasturtiums and burnt orange pumpkins; the sapphire bed includes ribbons of lavender and purple cabbage; and in the ivory bed, pearly white Japanese eggplants are lined up alongside white carrots. The plant list, which includes some annual summer flowers in addition to all the vegetables, is revised each year and pairs practical garden husbandry with flourishes of extravagant colour and sensual plant displays. A feast for eyes and appetites, the beds are framed by rose arbours, peppered with teepees of climbing sweet peas and surrounded by floral borders of mixed perennials. Classic French vegetable gardens are geometrically laid out in squares and rectangles, planted with long rows of mixed vegetables, herbs and flowering summer annuals. Straight lines, 90-degree corners, vertical plant supports and meticulous plant grooming coupled with the sensory pleasures of vivid colour, form and flavour, are signature characteristics of a French potager.
Our adaptation of Château de Bosmelet’s rainbow potager is designed with colour-coordinated lengths of perennial plants (selected for their early- and late-summer blooming periods) surrounding a six-sided geometric flagstone patio in its centre. The patio is punctuated with dwarf fruit trees and obelisks in oversized terracotta containers. Alternatively, you could dig four beds into any lawn space, with landscape bricks lining them to keep them in place. Allowing a wide lawn area between the established beds provides space for sitting, picnicking and enjoying the rainbow that surrounds you.