Potager Gardens

French Kitchen Garden Design Ideas

Feast your eyes on these pics of potager gardens and draw inspiration for your own French vegetable and/or herb garden. Potager design ideas

Ornamental cabbages grow beneath standard roses in the kitchen gardens at Chateau de Villandry.

Fun Fact:

The vegetables in the kitchen gardens at Villandry are chosen for their color and changed twice a year.

A potager is an ornamental kitchen garden where vegetable, herbs, fruits, and, often, flowers flourish together.  The idea of treating a vegetable plot like a pleasure garden dates back to sixteenth century France.

Villandry, a great French Renaissance chateau, did--and still does--this on a grand scale.

The basic rules of potager design are simple:

  1. Plant everything in well-defined beds separated by walkways.  The beds may be rectangular, round, or any shape that suits your fancy, but they should be edged.  Box is traditional, but other types of plants are worth considering.

    The walkways are traditionally paved in gravel or brick installed in an eye-pleasing pattern.
  2. Fill the aforementioned beds with plants that appeal to the eye as well as the palate.
  3. Use patterns.  This can be as simple as arranging red and green lettuces in alternating rows within the beds or as elaborate as arranging the beds themselves into parterres de broderie like the ones at Chateau de Villandry.

Pumpkins in the kitchen garden at Chateau de Villandry.

The images below demonstrate the great variety of patterns which may be utilized in potager gardens.

Potager design at Chateau de Villandry

Another vegetable garden at Villandry.

To Achieve the Look of an Established Potager Quickly:

Bella Gold Peacotum, Peach/Apricot/Plum Cross

Breda Giant Medlar

Red Lake Currant

  • Invest in mature trees.  Large trees age a garden instantly.  They also give you quick shade and privacy.  If you economize by planting whips, the other techniques in this section will be rendered less effective.
  • Use aged paving materials.  If you can't salvage old bricks, buy new tumbled bricks.  Their softer edges and colors will establish the same mood.
  • Scour local flea markets (or the online equivalent) for pots, urns, watering cans, and other garden supplies with Old World style and the patina of age.
  • Plant annuals for instant color gratification.  Perennial plants take several growing seasons to mature whereas most annuals mature in less than 90 days.  So, for the first few years, rely on annual plants to contribute most of the color.  Eventually, the perennials will grow and spread leaving little space for them, but your French potager will be resplendent with bloom from season one.
  • Instead of waiting for slow-growing boxwood hedges to mature, plant curled parsley or clumps of purple-flowered chives as a bed edging.  
  • Grow vines on obelisks or arbors to add fast height.

French Kitchen Garden Vines:

Scarlet Runner Pole Beans

Grandpa Ott Morning Glory

Spanish Dancer Sweet Pea

Fountain in a potager garden in Savannah, GA.

This garden proves that even the most petit potager can combine pleasure and utility with the same Gallic flair as the kitchen gardens of the grandest chateau.

Water is nearly always used in French garden design, so the fountain here is particularly apropos.

Where space is at a premium, the gardener's desire for ornament must be carefully balanced against the family's need for nourishment. 

Sometimes, one plant can satisfy both appetites.

The petunias frolicking round the rosemary could just as well be replaced with nasturtiums.

The gray walls would provide the perfect surface against which to espalier a fruit tree.

Good Potager Garden Herbs:

Flame Thrower Heirloom Nasturtium

Double Curled Organic Parsley

Organic Chives Seed

Related Pages:

Planting Vegetables in Raised Beds

French Country Gardens: Planting a Parson's Plot

A List of French Garden Flowers

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William Merritt Chase, The Nursery, Art Print
A French Kitchen Garden, 1883
Vegetable Garden at the Hermitage, Pontoise, 1879
Cabbage Garden, Arthur Melville, 1877

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