Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Potager or Ornamental Kitchen Garden

A Potager at Château de Villandry, France

Designed to feed both body and soul, the potager or ornamental kitchen garden is the ultimate combination of parterre and vegetable patch.

Fruits & vegetables, flowers & herbs, are artfully arranged in symmetrical garden beds that are surrounded by low clipped box hedges.  These individual plots, separated by sand or gravel paths,  are precisely placed to form striking geometric patterns.

Six of the Nine Villandry Potagers

Initially developed by French monks, the potager evolved through the French Renaissance styled garden to the more formal Garden à la française with an emphasis on beauty realized through the studied application of measure and proportion.

In 1678 when Louis XIV, the Sun King, demanded a kitchen garden or "Potager du Roi" befitting his palace of Versailles no expense was spared in providing it for him. The king, a great amateur gardener, wanted his fruit & vegetable paradise close to the chateau so that he could inspect it at will and enjoy its beauty.  It is even said that he learned even to prune his own fruit trees!

Designed by Jean-Baptiste La Quintinie, the garden resides in a courtyard and consists of 16 beds surrounded by a flowering terrace. The use of walls & multi-level terraces creates a warm micro-climate where exotic species can be nurtured throughout the year.

Potager du Roi, Versailles

La Quintinie used The King's Kitchen Garden as a laboratory, inventing new techniques and gaining experience with methods that allowed, for example, the ripening of fruits & vegetables five to six weeks early "such as strawberries in late March and peas in April, figs in June, asparagus and lettuces in December lettuce, January, etc.".

Even on a much smaller scale, definitely more relevant to our own backyards, these techniques provide an efficient and beautiful way for us to grow our own produce.  The use of vertical space, raised beds, sheltering walls, grouping of complimentary plants etc. all contribute to the magical mix of the ornamental kitchen garden.

If you would like to learn more, the post Potager Garden by GonnaFly provides some wonderful inspiration as well as simplified gardening plans that you can apply directly to your own garden.

For more spectacular images see my Pinterest Board Potager & Parterre.

I originally published this on Tatiana's Tea Room as a companion piece for My Adventures in Virtual Gardening which describes my attempts over the years to recreate these magical gardens in a virtual setting.  A year later, I'm re-posting here as added inspiration for my "real life" garden.

Now I'm off to research companion plants & vegetables that will thrive in Zone 5A!

The Potager or Ornamental Kitchen Garden by  on 2014-05-24 Designed to feed both body and soul, the potager or ornamental kitchen garden is the ultimate combination of parterre and vegetable patch.

Images: Château de Villandry by Christiane Schulze;  Six of the Nine Villandry Potagers by Peter Dutton; Potager du Roi

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  1. I have had a longterm romance with Potager gardens… I will have one someday! :)

    1. I hope you do, Cynthia! I find them absolutely fascinating; beautiful & functional at the same time. I try to incorporate some of their tricks in my own little gardens and when it's cold & snowy here in Ontario I'm happy just dreaming over the pictures :)

  2. Thank you for the historical references - so interesting and so beautiful!

    1. You're very welcome, Vanessa. Thank you you for stopping by!

  3. What a stunning garden. It really is a work of art and an inspiration. I will dream of a garden like that too. Lucky you being able to garden in a Zone 5A! I live mostly in a 3 and sometimes I can push limits with 4 zone plants. If only....

    1. I guess I should stop whining about my Zone 5A, Thea :)

      One of the best things about these gardens, besides the sheer beauty of course, is the micro-climates that they created. Something that gives us ideas about, as you say, pushing the limits.

  4. The Potager gardens are so beautiful, thanks for posting all the information and history!

  5. They are so pretty Tatiana! It's amazing how gorgeous fruits and vegetables can look.

  6. Wow, this is amazing! I knew that historical gardens were meticulously designed, but I didn't realize they were practical as well. We have a small patch in a side garden that is overgrown with weeds and mint (of course, the mint always takes over everything!) ... but I LOVE being able to go outside and pick some fresh herbs. It's a true pleasure.

  7. Very interesting blog. A lot of blogs I see these days don't really provide anything that I'm interested in, but I'm most definitely interested in this one. Just thought that I would post and let you know.