By planting ornamental edibles, you can enjoy a beautiful garden as well as the process of harvesting and eating tasty homegrown crops.
We ask a lot from our outdoor spaces and often aspire to good design, year-round interest, wildlife areas and produce all from one plot. This is rather like taking the essence of a country estate with its contours and lakes, shrub borders, parterres and walled kitchen garden and then cramming it into a postage stamp. Can you have it all? Of course you can – based on the French-style potager garden.
The modern potager is usually a small, well-designed space. As Joy Larkcom suggests in her book Creative Vegetable Gardening, ‘It seems to me appropriate to steal the word "potager" and apply it today to any vegetable garden, of whatever size, which has been touched with the paintbrush of imagination.'
Purely ornamental trees and shrubs are replaced by those producing edible fruits, while groundcover is provided by herbs, perennial globe artichokes, asparagus and strawberries. Shorter-term crops chosen for beauty as well as abundance and flavor slot into formal, sunny beds bisected by pathways. A smattering of flowers for cutting, and to attract beneficial insects, as well as edible blooms such as nasturtiums, are not out of place. Bare corners can be filled with clusters of pots packed with beetroot, kohl rabi or climbing sugar snap peas.
One potager pitfall is leaving harvesting longer than usual for fear of spoiling the display. Do set crops slightly closer than normal and keep picking leaves, pulling roots and taking pods until the whole crop has been harvested at the peak of freshness. Canny potager gardeners raise replacements in modules or pots ready to fill gaps.
Whether you're growing in raised beds, containers, or borders, plan now to fill your garden with attractive and tasty ornamental edibles for year-round color and produce.
By Anne Swithinbank