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. 

Radiccio

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

olives

capers

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

You can also add seared tuna or grilled flank steak. 

Simplicity

Bright Lights Swiss chard

I don’t do resolutions. But I do love the idea of a fresh start for some things in my life. So, here is my resolve for all of us. Just start.

I’ve been reading so many gardeners’ and cooks’ resolutions that my head is spinning. But the one thing that seems a common thread through all of these is the desire for simplicity. 

I’ve touted this for years, that simple gardening and simple cooking will bring us back to the garden and kitchen in a restful, pleasant way. And if it becomes meaningful or artistic, all the better. But mostly, we just need to start. Start small, start easy and most of all, don’t pressure yourself to create a masterpiece. 

Gardening

For gardening, perhaps it means getting two pots, filling them with soil and planting lettuce. When the lettuce is done, plant carrots. Or a pepper or a tomato. If you are successful (meaning you get something on the table, even a simple salad), then ask yourself if you want to go further with your garden.

Bowl full of Batavia lettuce

Cooking

For cooking, try this: 
Chop a sweet pepper, a sweet onion and a small zucchini or a couple of leaves of chard. Saute them in olive oil until tender, season to your liking, and serve over cooked rice or pasta. Simple! And delicious. Cooking doesn’t have to be hard. And, you can always embellish as your heart leads you.

Sauteed peppers and greens

For a bigger challenge:

Saucy Greens

1 small bunch of Swiss chard or other greens

1 clove garlic, minced

¼ c. onion, sliced

1 T. olive oil

1 T. balsamic vinegar

1 t. Sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

½ c. chopped tomatoes

2 T. sour cream or plain yogurt

1 T. sriracha sauce if desired

2 large eggs if desired

Rinse the greens liberally and remove tough stems. Stack the leaves and roll them into a “cigar” and slice thinly. Add garlic and onion to olive oil in heavy pan and saute until tender. Fry eggs in separate pan if you intend to use them. Add greens, vinegar and sugar and saute about 5 minutes until greens are tender. Turn off the heat and stir in tomatoes and sour cream or yogurt. Salt and pepper to taste.

Most of all, have a wonderful 2020 and don’t be afraid to play!