By: Heather Rhoades
Over the past few years potager gardens have become extremely popular in the garden design world. Many people wonder how to design a potager garden for their home. Designing a potager garden is easy if you just know a few things about them.
Potager gardens combine the utilitarian nature of the English kitchen garden with the style and grace of French fashion. It is basically an ornamental vegetable garden. Plants are chosen for both their edible and ornamental natures and are put together in such a way that it looks pretty while still providing food for the household.
There is no one potager design. There are many different potager designs. Some favor the style of knot gardens or designs that repeat a certain pattern or a symmetrical shape. While these designs are typically true of potager garden designs, this is not the only way to design potager gardens. A traditional cottage garden design, which tends to be a little less formal, can also make a nice potager garden.
When thinking about how to design a potager garden, you are best off starting out with just a piece of paper. Consider the space you have in your garden and the plants you wish to grow. Draw all of your potager design plans out on paper before you put anything in the ground.
In French style potager gardens, the only plants you need to have are ones that look good. Since you are designing a French garden, you will want to take into consideration the ornamental value of each plant, even the vegetables. Some vegetables are ornamental all on their own, while with others, you will want to look for more ornamental looking varieties. For example, instead of just plain green cabbage, try growing purple varieties. Instead of just regular red varieties of tomatoes, look into some of the many varieties of heirloom tomatoes that exist with come in colors ranging from white to near black.
Color coordination and shape are also key when designing a French garden. Consider the color and shape of the plants you choose for your potager design. Remember that many long, low growing vegetables can be trained to grow vertically as well.
Flowers are also essential French garden plants. Consider flowers that would match the size, shape and color of your chosen vegetables.
Potager gardens do not need to be fussy things. Your potager design can be as complicated or as simple as you wish it to be. The key to how to design a potager garden is simply to make it look as nice as it tastes.
This article was last updated on
Read more about Garden Spaces
Southern California homeowners interested in growing some or all of their own food have the distinct advantage of all-season gardens that can provide them with fresh vegetables, herbs and fruits throughout the year.
With the growing movement towards eating produce grown locally, lowering our family’s environmental impact, and including more fruits and vegetables in our diets, many homeowners are becoming even more interested in partaking in a bit of urban farming and turning at least a small part of their backyards into producing vegetable gardens.
While any homeowner in San Diego County, Orange County or the surrounding areas who has a small patch of dirt – or even a small balcony – can grow a year-round garden of some sort, many are torn between their desire to plant a functional garden that provides food and their desire to have attractive outdoor entertaining spaces for their family and guests to enjoy.
After all, when most of us think of backyard vegetable gardens, we picture scraggly rows of squash, metal tomato cages and bare patches of earth between boringly green plants.
That is not something most of us would want next to an elegant outdoor entertaining area where we plan to host dinner parties or along the side of the paving stone patio surrounding our swimming pool.
Of course, vegetable gardens can be attractive additions to backyard landscaping, but without planning and a creative design, it is easy for them to end up looking like those scraggly rows most of us do not want in our yards.
For folks who want both a vegetable garden and attractive outdoor living areas, there is the potager.
A potager (pronounced pot-ah-zhay) is a French kitchen garden with origins dating back to the 15th century and the French Renaissance gardens during the reign of King Charles VIII.
These symmetrical, well-ordered gardens were inspired by the Italian Renaissance gardens seen by the king and nobles while in Italy for a war campaign in the late 15th century.
Upon returning home, they begin to redesign their gardens to reflect the Italian idea of creating beauty by bringing order to nature.
This new way of creating garden spaces included the addition of terraces, pathways, statuary, water features, labyrinths and impeccable landscaping in an effort to create gardens based on geometry and perspective that were orderly and visually pleasing.
Over the years, this school of garden design developed into the French formal garden, which is an era in French garden history that came to its peak under the reign of King Louis XIV.
This dramatic, immaculate garden style was replicated in courts across Europe and continued to be the fashionable choice in garden design until the mid-18th century, when English garden design that favored nature over symmetry began to gain influence.
During the French Renaissance garden era and the French formal garden era, court gardens across France became true outdoor living areas where royalty and nobility entertained their guests with plays and parties among the well-groomed hedges and parterres.
Even after the English garden style began to take hold, which is the predecessor for the landscape gardens most of us have today, many French homes continued to maintain more formal, symmetrical gardens near the house, while allowing a more natural look for garden areas further away from where they entertained guests.
With this much emphasis on perfectly manicured, well-ordered outdoor living spaces, it is no surprise that French royals and nobles desired kitchen gardens that were just as symmetrical and pleasing to the eye.
This is how the French kitchen garden – or potager – was born.
These well-organized gardens provided vegetables, fruits and herbs for cooking and were made more attractive by incorporating flowers for cutting and borders that provided clean lines.
Planting beds were designed in geometric patterns, such as diamonds, squares, circles and rectangles, which were usually bordered by perfectly clipped hedges and often separated by gravel walkways.
These kitchen gardens were designed for maximum production in visually appealing spaces, which is why flowers were often included in the plantings, and colorful, edible plants were intermixed with more lackluster greenery.
These highly stylized, well-organized gardens with clean lines and repetitious symmetry are great for gardeners who enjoy a very clean look and do not mind spending a little extra time keeping their garden manicured.
For those who prefer the more natural look of an English cottage garden or meadows filled with wildflowers, the formal look of a potager will likely feel too constricted and too man made.
However, even those who prefer to let nature do as it wishes are less likely to want it to do as it wishes in their backyards where they intend to spend quality time with their families or entertain guests.
This is why a modern take on the potager kitchen garden will likely appeal to just about any homeowner interested in incorporating an attractive vegetable garden into their landscape design.
This is particularly true if you simply use a traditional potager as your inspiration as you design a garden that fits your needs and style.
Using a potager kitchen garden as your design inspiration will help keep your garden more organized with a cleaner look, even if you decide to include some non-traditional additions that blur the lines between the formal look of a French garden and the more relaxed look of a cottage garden.
Always remember that your backyard should fit your needs and personal style, regardless of landscaping trends or what is considered fashionable.
Your patio, garden or water features do not need to adhere to strict design guidelines or fit nicely into a particular style.
It is far more important that you define your space as you see fit and that your outdoor living areas work for you.
With this in mind, you should design your kitchen garden to suit your needs without worrying if a French garden expert is going to visit your backyard and admonish you for not using the correct mix of plants or the right hedges for your planting bed borders.
If you are interested in staying within the design guidelines of a traditional potager, that is entirely possible, and with a bit of research, you can create a perfectly organized, symmetrical garden that is sure to impress your neighbors.
However, if you would rather simply have an attractive kitchen garden that is well organized and fits with your overall landscape design, you can achieve this without feeling restricted to a particular style.
If you like the idea of planting beds that are neatly organized and separated by walkways, the easiest way to achieve this look is to install raised garden beds with paving stone or gravel pathways between each bed.
Raised garden beds automatically make your vegetable garden look more organized and have the added benefit of reducing weed growth and providing an attractive layout in which to segregate different types of plantings.
You can always go a step closer to a formal French garden by bordering your planting beds with low hedges, but keep in mind that this will require more maintenance, which may not be appealing.
To achieve the symmetrical look of a traditional potager, choose a single geometric shape for your garden beds, and repeat it throughout the space.
To add a bit more visual interest, you may want to choose one shape, such as a diamond or a circle, for the center of your garden, and then surround it with square garden beds that are evenly spaced and separated by walkways.
Walkways are an important part of achieving a potager look, but they also provide easy access to all of your plants, so make sure you install pathways that are wide enough to easily traverse.
The next step is selecting plants for each garden bed.
The goal is to mix more attractive flowers and plants with those that are not as aesthetically appealing.
This may mean planting flowers for cutting around the base of your tomato plants or planting attractive lettuces surrounded by less-interesting green onions.
Because bare earth is something to avoid in a potager, cut-and-come-again salad greens are a particularly good choice for use as filler between other plants.
If you plan on growing seasonal vegetables, you will need to fill the space with other options at the end of the season.
For this purpose, you might want to use fast-growing fillers, such as basil or mustard, to quickly fill in empty spaces.
If you wish to include fruit trees in your garden, these would traditionally be placed at corners or along the outside edge of a potager and often have herbs, flowers or low-growing plants at the base.
A potager is meant to be beautiful, so you may also want to consider installing painted plant stakes or a trellis for your plants that need to climb or be tamed, rather than using metal tomato cages or other less-attractive options.
In traditional American vegetable gardens, we usually see single types of plants planted in rows.
This makes planting and harvesting a bit easier, but is not as visually interesting as a French kitchen garden, which usually mixes colors and textures to create an appealing array.
When you follow the potager style of gardening and incorporate vegetables, herbs and flowers in the same planting beds, this is much easier to achieve.
If you have a smaller yard, only have gardening space on your patio, or need to create both a garden and outdoor entertaining area in limited space, you may want to consider adding containers to your design.
While containers are not typically found in a traditional potager, keep in mind that this is your garden, and you can design it any way that works best for you.
Container gardens offer the same beauty and clean, well-organized look of a potager, which makes them a fine addition to a modern-day version tailored to fit your needs.
When installing a potager-inspired kitchen garden, beauty, symmetry and organization are an important part of each aspect of design.
This includes things like plant markers, which should be just as tasteful as your garden layout.
Painted tiles, copper markers on stakes or cut metal garden stakes with writing space are better choices than cheap, plastic markers that will take away from your garden’s overall visual appeal.
A traditional potager is usually designed with a series of parterres (planting beds bordered by hedges with a geometric pattern layout) that are designed to be seen from above, such as from a balcony, a terrace or the windows of the main house.
To adhere to this part of the tradition, you may want to view the area you have chosen for your garden from a window or balcony while you are designing the layout.
When selecting plants, do a little research on which plants can benefit each other when planted together.
For example, marigolds are a natural pest repellant that can be planted to add color to your vegetable beds.
Rather than using hedges that require regular shaping as planting bed borders, you may want to consider using lettuces for a uniform, colorful border option.
Many herbs have beautiful flowers, which makes them a dual-purpose choice for gardeners looking for flowering edible plants to include in their kitchen gardens.
Within your kitchen garden, you may want incorporate a few themes that go with your lifestyle.
For example, you could include a salsa garden with tomatoes, peppers, onions and cilantro a pizza garden with tomatoes, basil, garlic and oregano a salad garden with a variety of leafy greens a cutting garden for fresh flowers for centerpieces an herb garden for cooking and home remedies or a cocktail garden with mint, celery, lemon balm or strawberries for daiquiris.
Keep in mind that modern French gardeners really maximize their backyard gardening space by planting much closer together than American gardeners usually do.
Don’t be afraid to plant herbs, vegetables and flowers close together to get more out of your garden.
Just remember that, like French gardeners, you will need to feed your soil with compost and pull weeds immediately to make sure your plants have the nutrients they need to thrive.
Photo Credits (in order of appearance): Wikimedia Commons/Manfred Heyde morgueFile, kconnors morgueFile, missyredboots morgueFile, missyredboots morgueFile, clarita.
Herbs are attractive plants that also give food a real boost in the kitchen. Popular choices include mint, basil, parsley, coriander, oregano and lemon balm.
Try creating a separate herb bed as a feature or add plants in at the front of beds and borders. They will release their scents as you walk past. Large, shrubby herbs like lavender and rosemary are great for evergreen colour in seasonal beds too.
The amount of available sunrise is the most important component in ensuring what kind of plant that you will improve. In some scenarios, the amount of sunrise is flexible in which sometimes is sufficient and insufficient. You must realize it because it influences the growth of your plants and flowers in the beauty potager garden. All potager gardens are a practical place for refreshing your mind at home. The vegetable garden doesn’t need to destroy a beautiful view. For example, you may put it on the shiny area to grow rapidly so that it becomes a refreshing garden with an amazing view.
A beauty potager garden is very well for both women and men who want to plant vegetables. The garden usually requires pots and can be found near to the kitchen. This garden is providing vegetables, fruits, flowers, and the other plants helping you to create a beautiful green space at home. It is located in the learning position where it is designing a potager garden in simple ways. It is important to measure the space before making the beauty potager garden. It is crucial to see sunrise exposure. In designing this garden, you are going to find unique directions to build a beauty potager garden.
The word "potager" in French simply means "kitchen garden" or "vegetable." The potager garden is a garden space set aside to grow a mixture of edibles. Paths lined with brick or soft turf separate the garden beds. Potager gardens typically have narrow beds to make it easy to plant, tend and harvest vegetables. Think of them like beautiful vegetables gardens.
The first potager gardens were humble peasant gardens planted for utilitarian purposes. Nearly every home in olden times had a small space outside the door set aside to grow vegetables and herbs. Simple potager gardens included plenty of herbs, used both medicinally and to season foods. Certain herbs, such as violets and lavender, were grown to use for strewing, or spreading underfoot on the cottage floor. When people walked over the herbs, they crushed them and released the scent, which was useful to mask unpleasant odors. Root crops and other staple foods were also grown in the potager garden along with fruit, which provided a welcome sweet treat during harvest season.
Although kitchen gardens were common among all social classes in Europe, it wasn't until the Renaissance and Baroque eras that the formal garden design called the Potager Garden appeared in France. During this time, France reigned as the epitome of power throughout Europe. Think of Louis XIV, the "Sun King," the Court of Versaille, and the ornate villas, chateaux and other estates built during this era. A simple peasant kitchen garden would not do. Instead, garden designers created elaborate formal potager gardens with lines similar to the formal pleasure gardens created throughout Europe at this time. Gardens featured geometric patterns with beds set apart by low hedges of lavender, boxwood or flowering violets. The emphasis was equally on form as well as function.
dorofo2504 / Pixabay
So now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the principles of the potager garden, you might ask yourself which are the best plants to choose. This will be different for every gardener. The most important thing is to create a list of what you and your family like to eat, which herbs you use regularly in your cooking( or in your home apothecary), and which flowers you love to look at.
It is important that you enjoy your garden, so grow what you love. Just keep your planting zone in mind, as well as what is available locally.
Couleur / Pixabay
Since the potager is a historic garden type it is a nice idea to use heirloom plants as a way to nod to the past, and at the same time keep these varieties available for the future generations. My friend once gave me some heirloom beans that are said to have been carried on the Trail of Tears, and I have always found a space for them in my garden.
I also like to plant varieties that my grandfather—who was an avid gardener—cultivated. It’s a nice way to remember those who came before us and honor those who, as in my case, taught us how to garden.
ulleo / Pixabay
Why go for plain old green cabbage when you could try brightly colored purple, or textured savoy? Or try some heirloom tomato varieties that are scrumptious and come in colors like white, pink and purple.
Do you like eggplant? There are white varieties as well as purple and black, ranging in size from a few inches in diameter, to enormous. Rainbow chard, heirloom carrots, purple potatoes… there are so many varieties to choose from. You can add color in every corner of your garden by incorporating some lesser-known heirloom varieties in amongst favorite staples.
KRiemer / Pixabay
Companion planting is the practice of planting a variety of crops in close proximity to achieve, pest control, pollination, habitat for beneficial creatures, maximum use of space, and otherwise increase crop productivity. Herbs like dill, fennel, mint, and basil, as well as flowers such as borage, comfrey, calendula, and lavender all serve specific purposes, and have countless uses in your home.
Check out our guide to companion planting to help you choose the herbs and flowers that are best suited to your garden dreams.
This guide should get you well on your way to planning and planting your very own potager garden so you can enjoy the bounty it provides. Happy gardening!
Jenn is a published author who has been writing about food, gardening, homesteading, herbs, and how to honor the seasons for the past 20 years. She is a Master Gardener with 10 years of experience raising chickens, Alpine goats, Shetland sheep. She enjoys sharing practical tips to create a relationship with the natural world.
I have big design plans for the garden and I love trying to work in the basics of permaculture into our little acreage.
But I also have great love for trying to incorporate something visually appealing.
Potager gardeners have intermingled fruits, veggies, and herbs with flowers since medieval days.
Typically a potager is located right outside of the kitchen door, this is why it is known as a kitchen garden. It would hold the herbs and veggies that you’d want easily available for a recipe without having to trudge out to the main garden just for some fresh herbs.
I love the lush fields of sunflowers in Tuscany or the gorgeous fields of lavender in Provence. this is year one in our brand new home on the ranch and I am creating a combination of old English cottage garden with a bit of Mediterranean flare.
This year I have big plans and I can’t wait to reveal the design and progress once the plants start to grow more and fill in a little bit.
Since we are talking about beautiful gardens, I thought I’d share a small glimpse of what I’m currently working on in our garden. This year, I am working towards the beginning steps of designing our potager garden.
I am taking inspiration from a traditional potager design, but altering it to fit in with my available space and my visual eye. I’m adding a little bit of whimsy and character. And a ton of color.
Something that borders on practical with beauty mixed in.
This year I am trying out a couple of new things in the Potager. First is this Back to Eden garden method. Have you used this method? I’d love to hear your experiences!
I am utilizing our greenhouse to get a head start with seed starting our herbs garden, fruits and flowers.
And I am also using companion plants in garden because it is incredibly beneficial to the success and growth.
I have everything in the ground or started except for corn and melons and a few ornamental flowers which I’m planning on starting in the new greenhouse soon.
And it needs to be weeded and mulched desperately. But the high winds have not helped this year. I may try pea gravel through the majority of the garden area to help keep the weeds down.
At least I have some great progress made this year.
The zucchini is growing rapidly.
And so are the peas! For these, I’m not going to use a trellis, but am hoping I can get them to climb on the fence line.
I have sunflowers coming in nearby, and the lettuce is doing amazing so far.
There’s a variety of herbs, both culinary and medicinal which have been started. As well as cucumbers, onions, potatoes, and eggplant.
I needed to re-start my tomatoes & peppers and a few other things we lost in the recent tornado.
And despite living in zone 5A, I have a mini olive tree and bay leaf plant on it’s way to the homestead. I might be slightly crazy, but I want to give it a try!
I plan on housing it in a large planter and moving it inside the greenhouse during the cooler evenings and then inside for the winter.
Plan & determine where you want to set up this gorgeous garden design and visualize. Choose a focal point.
For the center of our potager, I have two arches set up. One to grow pole beans and the other is for one variety of David Austin roses.
The fun thing about a potager design is that there is little room for error. It is uncomplicated, informal, and romantic. Imagine a variety of beautiful florals growing among the vegetables. And a variety of colors and textures.
Raised garden beds using natural materials gives to that old, rustic charm.
Or cute bean teepees made from tree branches. Give your tomatoes support with teepees as well.
The intermingling of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers — it’s truly a thing of beauty. What herbs and flowers to grow in a potager garden can vary depending on your growing zone, colors and textures.
The next thing to consider for design are the edges. For our farm, I’m filling in between plants and the outer edging with florals and herbs. I have flowering vines that I’m using along my fence line.
All of them filled with tons of color!
And then there’s the sunflowers which will serve as a beautiful background, but they’re also useful because they will provide treats for our chickens.
Then there are also climbing flowers and veggies to climb along fence lines and arches.
We use old cattle panels for our arches.
And new to this year are my variety of David Austin roses for around the garden and to climb over arches.
Another option for filling in spaces around the garden design are basic terra cotta planters filled with herbs and flowers.
There’s still much work to be done, but I will have another update when the garden begins to grow in more over the summer.
Check out this article for more info on creating up a potager garden.