Tuesday, May 28, 2013

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.

My Adventures in Virtual Gardening describes my attempts over the years to recreate these magical gardens in a virtual setting.
The Potager or Ornamental Kitchen Garden by  on 2013-05-28 Designed to feed both body and soul, the potager or ornamental kitchen garden is the ultimate combination of parterre and vegetable patch.

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

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