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

ornamental-edible-inset2.jpgA good potager design
A good potager design includes vertical accents: a birdhouse on a pole; stakes, ornate or plain, to hold up tomatoes; a trellis or teepee to carry pole beans, cucumbers or squash into the sun. Fences, too, can be pressed into service as supports for climbers. If you want to get fancy—and be very traditional—a sun-facing fence or wall is the perfect backing for an espalier, a fruit tree trained to fan out flat against the warm surface. Large containers or wooden half-barrels could be strategically placed to hold flowers, annual herbs such as basil or edibles such as cherry tomatoes.

Whether the entire garden is planned as a potager or just a portion of a larger yard, metre-wide borders along the sides and back are the obvious place for perennials, sheaves of gladioli or a favourite dahlia, as well as ornamental herbs such as sage, chives and oregano.

No rules govern the layout or shape of beds. In our kitchen garden, they run the gamut from half moons to triangles, from trapezoids to rectangles—and any other shape that fits the space. If you appreciate surprise and romance, let whimsy reign; if strict geometry is more your taste, there are plenty of precedents and patterns to emulate. Lay out beds in a manner that pleases your eye and relates to the existing context of house, fences, lawn and the like. Think of views and vistas, natural walking routes, easy access and a place to plunk yourself down and enjoy the garden.

Unlike a traditional vegetable garden, an ornamental kitchen garden is never entirely dug over or tilled; once formed, beds are more or less permanent. This allows the ends of beds to be used for perennial flowers and herbs. A dwarf fruit tree could be positioned at the end of a bed, but be mindful of the shade it will cast as it grows. Annuals fit right into a potager. Hardy types such as cornflowers, cosmos, love-in-a-mist, California poppies, alyssum, Shirley and opium poppies and cold-tolerant herbs such as dill, borage, coriander and chervil will pop up from seed every spring-gifts of colour and flavour for only the work of thinning them out.

With its diverse gathering of vegetables, flowers, herbs and fruit, a mixed garden feels welcoming and, in some indefinable way, comforting. An unpretentious place, it reflects the human need for both sustenance and beauty.


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