Potager or Kitchen Gardens

Red and green lettuces planted with violets and swiss chard

What exactly is a kitchen or potager garden? In essence, these trendy terms basically describe a garden filled with vegetables, herbs and fruits. All food gardens are technically kitchen gardens, but this term is often used for a garden planned for beauty as well as function. 

Potager garden

peas, radicchio and calendula flowers

Kitchen gardens have been around for hundreds of years. The French call it a potager garden, coming from the word potage for soup. Faced with usually small garden spaces, they have learned to grow enough vegetables to feed their families. And flowers to cut for the table. 

Cottage garden

British cottage gardens include ornamental plants combined with all manner of vegetables, fruits and herbs. They’re filled with lettuce, chard, sweet peas supported on twig trellises, and plump cabbages that are beautiful in their own right. Add the herbs such as purple leaf basil, lemon thyme and garden sage for cooking delectable dinners.

A kitchen garden can be precise and orderly, blowsy and tangled, or even a garden made up only of containers. But the effect is the same – vegetables and fruits grown with flowers and herbs, limited only by your imagination.

Lettuces and mesclun in rows for a potager garden

This type of garden is not used so much for large-scale production, canning and putting away for the winter, but more for immediate use in the kitchen. It can range from a small hanging basket of oregano and lettuce outside the back door to a full garden with roses, shrubs and perennials coupled with vegetables and herbs. Fruits and edible flowers certainly have a place here as well.

Why plant a kitchen garden?

We are usually inspired to start a kitchen garden because we want to taste fresh food that’s not available at the market. There is nothing quite like picking and tasting your own ripe, perfumed melon or warm raspberries right off the shrub. Greens such as arugula, radiccio and mesclun are rarely available from the grocery or farmers market, but are amazingly simple to grow. Heirloom squash and beans are easily be grown in the home garden. 


The freshest food

We all love having beauty around us – that’s generally why we garden in the first place. Edible plants can be artistically combined with ornamental plants to create a beautiful garden that pleases eye and palate. 

Some vegetables that lend themselves to a smaller space garden: 

The vegetables

Green beans – Come in green, purple and yellow types, in bush or pole types which produce later in the season. Plant scarlet runners, purple and yellow wax beans together on a trellis for all spectacular accent. 

Haricots verts

Eggplant – These delicious fruits come in every color and shape imaginable, from white to yellow to striped lilac to red to black, and in oblong, round and cherry-tomato sized. The compact plants make beautiful accents with striking purple flowers, dusky green-purple leaves and jewel-like fruits.

Kale – This nutritious vegetable comes in a myriad of sizes, colors and leaf textures. Unlike the familiar flowering kale, the new varieties are sweet and tender, and come in all shades of blue, purple, pink and red. Best of all, they produce all summer.  

Winterbor kale, pretty as any flower

Lettuce – there is no end to the colors and textures, not to mention the countless types of greens mixes. These make beautiful bed edging and thrive in baskets.

Batavia lettuce

Pepper – Peppers come in all colors, shapes and sizes, jewel-like fruits hung on ornamental plants. Choose orange, red, white, purple or brown bell peppers, scarlet cayennes or jalapenos, tiny upright mirasols, rich golden bananas and cubanelles or even tiny but potent maroon scotch bonnets. 

Cayenne peppers

Tomatoes – Grow cherries on trellises or patio tomatoes in the ground or in containers. There are methods to prune and pinch and train them onto a single stake, taking up much less room than in a tomato cage. 

Classic Salad Niçoise

This salad is a classic French dish and can be adapted to any seasonal vegetables and your favorite vinaigrette. Add edible flowers like calendula petals, nasturtiums or violets to make it pop.

Your choice of vegetables: 

sliced steamed baby potatoes 

green beans

artichoke hearts

small cooking onions or scallions

hard boiled eggs

tomato wedges

sliced sweet peppers

grated carrots

cooked edamame

shredded beets



Set in rows on a bed of bibb; drizzle with vinaigrette of choice. 

You can also add seared tuna or grilled flank steak. 

Summer in a jar

Our house is in the midst of putting summer in jars. I canned apple butter today, which had been in the slow cooker overnight. I awoke this morning to the scent of cinnamon and apples, and officially made the switch into fall. I’m no longer craving cucumbers, but have changed my craving to butternut squash.

Putting Food By

All winter my family will recall the sights and scents of summer as we open jars of home-canned fruits and vegetables. “Putting food by” is much more than just filling the larder for winter consumption. It’s an elixir for the soul. Not only is the food good for us, but one of the best prescriptions available for keeping the winter doldrums at bay is homemade strawberry jam on warm toast.

I Learned from my Mother and Grandmothers

Preserving from the garden fulfills my need for a connection with my past. My mother taught me to put food by, and always used everything from the garden. After canning tomatoes, green beans and squash, the leftover vegetables went into chow chow or green tomato piccalilli. Fresh apples and pears went into the root cellar while the overripe fruits were made into musky butters or tangy chutneys. I have many of my mother’s canning jars and they are used over and over again, occasionally finding their way to someone else’s home in the form of a holiday gift.

Canning Kitchen

Our kitchen is now a canning kitchen, with the canner taking a position of prominence on the counter, surrounded by canning lids, freezer bags and various utensils for lifting, tightening, pouring and straining. We put up tomatoes, green beans, beets, pickles, hot peppers, relishes, pear and herb vinegars. I’ll make pickles out of just about anything, some of which have become favorites while others end up on the compost pile the following spring.

Neighborhood Gardens

As I made my evening stroll of the neighborhood the other night, I took a different route than usual and came upon a magnificent garden nestled in an empty lot between two houses. It was divided into six plots, each bursting with cabbages, tomatoes, cucumbers, pole beans, beets, carrots and Swiss chard. This community garden was obviously producing plenty of vegetables for preserving. I trust that those gardeners are gaining the same pleasure from their harvest as I am from mine, and I’ll bet that they will all have cupboards full of summer’s bounty as they roll into a frigid winter.

Even though fall is approaching and bringing with it the bittersweet feeling of losing our long days and warm temperatures, the smells of ripe fruit and vegetables and the bright jars of pear butter, tomato sauce, tarragon vinegar and green tomato pickles make this a luscious time of year.