Friday, 18 February 2011

Planning the Perfect Potager

Discussing a secluded area in our Cotswold garden sorely in need of reclamation; almost a total makeover - but I have such plans (though bringing them to fruition will take time, and hours of work).

Rain in the wind, and falling from the sky - and I wonder when I will ever get back to the joys of plunging my hands in the warm soil, and actually sowing and planting anything, let alone harvesting young and succulent salads and vegetables. I return to my series of photographs taken around the garden in early January, and the plans that I was trying to formulate in my head for this year; always more than I can ever accomplish! Last week I blogged about my passion for herbs - but that is as nothing when compared to my PASSION for POTAGERS. Potagers? Best described perhaps as productive yet ornamental kitchen gardens. Not just food, but glorious colour, and the ongoing delights of watching edible plants grow, whilst also accommodating beneficial wildlife, no matter how small the space.

This potager is backed by a 'hedge' of rambling roses and willow with a wild garden alongside - and space to sit on a tiny paved area with fragrant herbs in pots - catch the fragrance as you brush past them. Somewhere to rest and contemplate the garden is essential. Meanwhile wild strawberries mingle with the cabbages.

In my various attempts at creating potagers over the years, the edible intermixes with other aspects of the garden. Each has been carved out of a semi-wilderness - and I have strategies for dealing with heavily weed-infested ground. But first, you need to decide whether this method of gardening appeals. It's ideal where space is limited - and one that even the RHS advocates. Advantages are many: crops can be packed closer together; it's easier to intercrop, easier to squeeze edibles into spaces within other areas of the garden; a doddle with children or grandchildren; and marvellous where you want to start immediately and don't have ground already prepared.

My 'grow-bag' potager: this is the area you can see from the paved area in the pic above (the rose hedge is in flower). The ground  was heavily infested with weed and I knew I would not be able to grow anything in the summer I created it; so I covered the ground with a plastic tarpaulin and arranged good-quality grow-bags into 'beds'. The crops flourished (you can see those bags which had only just been planted on the right).

Like the idea? Here's what to do: first decide whether you want to intersperse veg and salads within your flower borders, or whether you want to start from scratch. If the latter; assess the condition of the soil and how much work is involved with clearing. Heavily weed-infested areas can be treated as in the explanation above (using grow-bags); after one season, you should be able to lift away the ground cover, dig the soil and incorporate the spent grow-bag compost. If the ground is already 'fit', decide whether you want raised beds or other containers, and how you want to lay out the potager. 

Planning my new potager surrounded by existing shrubs and other wildlife-friendly plants - and logs from a recently felled eucalyptus.

I decide that the area shown above and in the first pic is perfect for a new potager, so I sat making notes (back in January that was), and sketched a very rough plan of what I want. There's a lot of work involved: tame the wildlife wilderness, accurately measure and peg it all out, dig out the bulbs that were planted seven years ago in what was then 'lawn', and somehow eradicate the delicious but invasive vanilla-scented Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) that has taken over the whole area. Meanwhile, to gain a headstart, I'll be raising seedlings in the greenhouse in pots and modules for planting when the area is ready. Or I'll do as last year when I was short of time and order some of Dobies excellent plug plants - we're still cropping leeks and sprouts.


A very rough sketch of the new potager - the central square (which still needs detailed planning) will be filled solely with Dobies vegetables, salads, edible flowers and herbs, whether raised from seed or grown on from bought-in plug plants. As soon as it stops raining (!) I'll be out there tackling the wild-life shrubbery - and, as time goes by, I'll keep you posted as to progress.

Potagers? What do you think? Your comments are invaluable to the Dobies team in helping us to focus on those topics you most enjoy reading about. So whether your preference is solely for a dedicated vegetable plot or allotment, or you are beguiled by the idea of a mixed-up garden, do let us hear your thoughts. I'm hooked on potagers because they are so eco-friendly and encourage biodiversity within the garden. But of course, you may not agree!
(This post written by contributor, Ann Somerset Miles.)

2 comments:

  1. Oh it sounds so lovely!

    Would love to have a bit like that here, but our ONLY space is now being used for raised beds and the greenhouse for veg.

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  2. I know how you must feel: I'll try to cover this lack-of-space thing in future posts. Thanks for your comment and good to meet you via 'cyberspace'. A.

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