Gardens - Fruit & Vegetable Gardening

The ornamental edible garden

By
Patrick Lima
Photography by
John Scanlan

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


Raised bed benefits

In a potager, bed size is variable, with one important caveat: you need to be able to reach into the middle of each bed without strain from a path on either side. A span of 1.2 metres might suit a long-armed, nimble-backed person; others will prefer beds 60 to 100 centimetres across. Length matters less, but if it's much beyond seven metres, a little cross path saves a lot of steps.

For a greater depth of soil, better drainage and earlier warming, raised beds are best. Loosen a few centimetres of path soil and rake it onto the bed, levelling both path and bed as you go. Tamp the sides with the back of a rake to prevent little landslides. If soil is sandy, rake up a rim of earth around the perimeter so water will stay put. Beds may be enclosed with cedar boards, but it might be best to wait a season or two, in case you want to rejig them.

If the existing soil is shallow, fill board-raised beds with a mixture of earth, compost, well-rotted manure, thoroughly decayed leaves and some peat. An annual layer of the same materials, turned under in early spring or fall, will keep beds productive. Once you've turned, fluffed and raked, it's best not to step on them: loose, well-aerated soil is easier on roots.

Potager beds are planted (naturally enough) in what is called the French intensive method. In a nutshell, the distance normally recommended between plants within a row is roughly the distance you leave between rows in the bed. For example, if the seed packet says to thin lettuces to 30 centimetres apart in a row, do so, but ignore the considerably larger distance suggested between rows. Instead, plant the next row 30 centimetres away. Even though individual carrots, radishes and other slim roots can be thinned to a mere five centimetres apart, the rows should be about a hand-span (15 to 20 cm) apart, so a slim hoe or your fingers can easily slip between. As plants grow, foliage touches and forms a living mulch, keeping the earth cooler, more moist and leaving little light or space for weeds. It's vital to dig out all perennial weeds at the start. Nip annual weeds well before they flower, remembering the old country refrain: One year's seeding makes seven years' weeding.

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