Sunday, April 24, 2011

Edible Landscaping or How to Plant a Potager orné

Ornamental kitchen gardens – potagers ornés – have a long and fascinating history. In medieval monasteries the monks planted medicinal and edible flowers in between their herbs and vegetables and to keep the plots separate they surrounded them with low hedges. In the fifteenth and early sixteenth century travelers returning from the Americas brought back exotic new edible plants – potatoes, tomatoes, egg plant, pumpkins, corn – and began to plant them in their gardens to show them off to their guests. Intrigued by their appearance and captivated by the novel tastes they added to the dinner table the guests soon started to grow the new plants in their own gardens. Since the prevailing style of garden was the formal parterre, the new vegetables were grown in these formal patterns of low boxwood hedges. At Versailles, Louis XIV had his gardener set up a kitchen garden, the famous Potager du Roi, in the most ornate of these patterns. It is the French name, potager orné , that we use today for “ornate vegetable gardens.” The Potager du Roi still exists and is a training ground for landscape architects.

Over time the concept of the potager orné migrated from palaces and stately homes to lesser dwellings. Labor intensive clipped hedges were replaced by sturdy plants or narrow paths. Patterns became less ornate. Sometimes simple squares or triangles of wood boards delineated boundaries between beds. Then gardeners devised raised beds that elevated the planting surface and boxes made of wood or other materials, filled with soil, that could be moved to different places and achieve their own unique style. Then it was only a short step to use containers of all kinds to plant vegetables and/or flowers and arrange them to your pleasure.

With the resources we have today it is possible to create an edible landscape that can rival any garden planted with grass and trees, with bushes and flowers. Traditionalists want to recapture the charm of boxwood potagers in the antique patterns. Others prefer the simplicity of wood bordered or raised beds or the versatility lent by container gardening. Whatever the choice, a well-designed vegetable garden brings delight to the eye and bounty to the table.

Happy gardening and bon appétit!

The Main Library has a small dispaly on the theme of ornamental vegetable gardens at the Art, Music and Recreation Center on the 4th floor. A print bibliography can be had at the Art, Music and Recreation Center reference desk.

Selected reading:

The Art of the Kitchen Garden by Jan and Michael Gertley (Taunton Press, 1999).

The Chef's Garden by Terence Conran with Andi Clevely (Conran Octopus, 2008).

The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping
by Rosalind Creasy (Sierra Club Books, 1982).

The Container Kitchen Garden
by Antony Atha (Collins & Brown, 2000).

Designing the New Kitchen Garden: An American Potager Handbook by Jennifer R. Bartley (Timber Press, 2006).

Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn (Metropolis Books, 2008).

Homegrown: A Growing Guide for Creating a Cook's Garden in Raised Beds, Containers, and Small Spaces by Marta Teegen (Rodale, c2010).

The Kitchen Garden Month by Month by Alan Buckingham (DK, 2010).

McGee & Stuckey's the Bountiful Container: A Container Garden of Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits and Edible Flowers by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey (Workman Pub., 2002).

The Ornamental Vegetable Garden by Diana Anthony (Warwick Pub., 1998).

The Patio Kitchen Garden by Daphne Ledward (Robson Books, 2001).

Square Foot Gardening: A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work by Mel Bartholomew (Rodale, 2005).


The Stylish Gardening Blog said...

Hi, I would have appreciated you contacting me before you used the image of the potager. It doesn't belong to me: I negotiated a strict agreement with the photographer to feature it on my blog and not reproduce elsewhere. I am flattered that you used it, but I can't afford to have my copyright agreements breached. Isabel at Fennel and Fern.

San Francisco Public Library, Art, Music and Recreation Center said...

We did not produce a copy of the image, but we did embed the link to image and acknowledge the image's source.

Since this is contrary to your agreement with the photographer we will remove the link and reference to your website. We apologize if our linking to the image has caused you any difficulty.