Gardens - Fruit & Vegetable Gardening

The ornamental edible garden

Patrick Lima
Photography by
John Scanlan

Blend your fruits, vegetables and herbs with the flowers in your garden to create a potager

Potage: French for soup. Potager: a garden where soup ingredients—and then some—are grown. Since medieval times, French villagers and country folk have intermingled vegetables, herbs, fruit and flowers in their gardens. It's a style that's presently enjoying a revival. A recent survey showed that almost one-quarter of the fruit and vegetables eaten by the French are grown in home gardens—not in long rows on broad tracts of land, but in manageable beds tucked into yards that also contain perennials, shrubs, vines, roses and all.

If growing vegetables puts you in mind of a none-too-pretty plot, straight rows and endless hoeing, reconsider: it's entirely possible to have a lovely, easily tended garden, and eat from it, too. In essence, a potager is a series of growing beds, as few as two or as many as space allows, intersected by paths. The first requirement is sun. Then let your imagination go.

How to grow edibles and ornamentals side by side
There are two ways of growing food plants while keeping aesthetics in mind. One is to add suitable edibles to existing flower beds: parsley or red-leafed lettuce bordering perennials or roses, a patch of Swiss chard or purple kale among the flowers, a tower of pole beans at the back. The other involves laying out an interesting vegetable garden and weaving flowers, herbs and even fruit trees into the design.

The kitchen garden of my partner, John Scanlan, and me follows the second pattern. Some beds are given over to food plants, others to perennials; self-seeding annuals are left to grow (within reason) where they land. As we seed and weed, flowering plants are there to enjoy; on a practical level they draw bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects that move on to pollinate cucumbers, squash and such. Herbs add diversity, while their scents, sweet or pungent, are part of the bug-baffling mix.

The result is a space with the attributes of an ornamental garden: enclosure, design, structures, seating, varied textures, water features, seasonal colour and a sense of both change and permanence. And from the same ground comes all this wonderful food: fresh spinach, radishes and lettuce in early summer, baskets of peas and heads of broccoli in July, tomatoes, cucumbers and Spanish onions later on, and potatoes, carrots and cabbage in the fall.

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