Touring Susan Loomis’ potager at her former home in Louviers was one of the many highlights of the multi-day cooking experience last summer because it introduced me to a couple of herbs I cannot find in the states easily.
Equally as inspiring, after reading Robert Arbor’s book Joie de Vivre (episode #253 details a long list of inspiring ideas from this lovely read), and listening to how he described his potager in the French countryside, the ease from which he would grow his herbs, vegetables and berries amongst the flowers, I knew (prior to buying my home) how I wanted to garden after reading his book.
My now garden is not large. The lawn area is small, but there are many thoughtfully placed narrow borders edging the grass, as well as rockery that provides areas on the east, south and west sides of the house for whatever plants would be best suited.
Today I would like to give you a mini-tour of my potager and share with you the herbs, vegetables, berries and flowers I am growing to inspire you to grow what you love eating and cooking with regardless of how much property you have.
Quickly, you may be asking, What is a potager (pronounced without the “r” and accent on the “e” -yes, I have made the mispronunciation before and even on a podcast episode)? A potager is a kitchen garden that grows amongst the vegetables, flowers and herbs to make the function of providing and growing food not only edible but pleasing to the eye as well. And as you will see below, with some inclusions of particular flowers, protect the plants from pests.
Each morning since I have planted my herbs from the seed trays and they have matured enough to be used, I pop outside to my garden porch, snip off some chervil and roughly chop it to place on top of my omelette.
When the craving for a Caprese Bruschetta appetizers arises, just as easily, I step outside to my potager and grab some fresh basil.
Having an herb garden is a true simple luxury that can cost only a couple of dollars each year, and it is easy to care for and thereby enhances the flavor of your meals.
This year, knowing I wanted to grow a handful of French herbs I cannot find in the nurseries or the grocery markets here in Bend, I grew many of my own from seed. For a couple of dollars for a seed packet of 30-50 seeds, you can grow an abundance of your favorite herbs and some are even hardy enough to become perennials.
Why Not . . . Grown a(n) Herb Garden?Check out this post for a full list of all of the herbs beyond those shared here you might want to consider planting.
Seen in the foreground (basil is in the background), chervil is sometimes called French parsley or garden chervil because as you can probably tell it looks as though it is a cousin of flat leaf parsley. However, while related to parsley and one of the original four fine herbes along with parsley (the other two are tarragon and chives), the flavor of chervil has a subtle anise or licorice taste. So delicate, yet brilliant for topping as I shared above on eggs, salads or soups.
Of all of the seeds I sowed, the chervil was the most successful (this picture above was taken in early June, and by late July it was twice this size and very happy). It will go to seed, so if you don’t want to have to purchase more seed next year, save the seeds in a small paper envelope. This herb is an annual and is not hardy through winter.
After traveling to France last summer, sorrel became the herb I was determined to have in my garden at all times. This herb was the one Susan Hermann Loomis introduced to me as we put it in a cream sauce, and it added a luscious lemon flavor. Use this herb with fish, and oh my goodness, your lemon will be able to take a break and your tastebuds will thank you.
Above are my plants of sorrel, and good news! They can be a perennial herb. Next year I will be moving mine to a shadier spot as I learned they prefer less sun than most herbs, and it would likely be growing far taller and larger by now had I done so (this was taken yesterday). However, with consistent watering, it is still doing okay. Big single leaves much like spinach, but again, simply try a bite, and you will taste luscious lemon citrusy awesomeness.
3. Genovese Basil and Bush Basil
Genovese is the classic Italian sweet basil seen frequently in nurseries and on your grocer’s market fresh produce shelves. Big, lovely green leaves, and their scent is the scent of summer.
Bush basil is seen in the foreground in each of the pictures below, and it is much more delicate in its presentation with small, petite leaves. Often referred to as dwarf basil, don’t let its size fool you, as its flavor is much more intense than Genovese basil. And, if you live in a milder climate, it may just make it through the winter unlike Genovese.
I grew the Bush Basil seen here from seed. It did very well during the spring, but upon being placed out in the garden, it took time for it to grow into what you see here. The growth was so gradual, that I did go and purchase a handful of Genovese basil plants as I did not grow these from seed as I knew I could easily find them at the nursery. However, to look at it now, it has come into its own.
For both of these plants, while they will not make it through a Bend winter, I plan on potting them in small pots to place inside my house near a south facing window so they can live a little bit longer through the fall and winter.
Seen in the background behind the Genovese basil, my rosemary is very happy. In fact, I transplanted my rosemary and it consists of three different plants I brought with me from my rental last summer. They have all grown together and are exuberantly at ease and in their glory in this southeast facing corner.
The smell when I walk past or gently brush them knocks me out in the best possible of ways, but as you can see behind it, there is another plant that needs to be moved as the rosemary is taking all of the space and the water. That will be moved this fall.
As I shared at the top of this post, I don’t have garden beds or a traditional space one might expect in an American or English garden (however, speaking of English gardens, did you know that Cottage Gardens were originally focused on utilizing the small amount of land they had to grow the food they would eat as a family, not as many flowers as are customary now? With that said, Cottage Gardens have far more similarities with potagers, which just tickles me to no end. The French and English coming together!).
Back to my tomatoes. I have placed four tomatoes along a south facing wall in a border that is six inches in width. Not much space, but as you can see just below, this Big Beef is exceptionally happy. My Candyland reds (petite ruby gem tomatoes) are doing well also (second image below), and just recently my Heirloom Marriage Genuwine began to share green tomatoes as well. Quickly about the Big Beef which you see just below, I have eight or nine nearly full sized green tomatoes, and now all I have to do is be patient while they ripen.
5.5 Cucumber and Courgette/Zucchini
I am currently growing one cucumber plant my mom gave me and one courgette or zucchini plant I picked up at the market in May. The pictures were not that great so I didn’t include them, but they have blossoms and the start of vegetables!
The original landscapers of my new home knew how to utilize the small space they had, and in many ways put into practice the designs of a potager: instead of creating a separate space for the vegetables, herbs and berries, grow them amongst the lawn, the flowers, the shrubs, the perennials, etc.. And so they did so with the strawberries that are everywhere in my garden borders that edge my lawn. I even have pots that frame my garden porch solely full of strawberries sharing ever-berry sweetness all summer long.
I have two young neighbor kids who pop by throughout the week, and when they do, they ask if they can pick a few strawberries. Inviting them to take a handful each visit, they have trotted back to their house with sweet and ruby-red handfuls multiple times this summer already. It is quite fun to share.
I have had little experience growing blueberries, but again, my house and garden came with them, so I wanted to do my best to take care of them and hopefully increase my crop over the next few years. Currently, they are ready to pick and with a few plants randomly planted about the borders, their blue color pairs well with the red berries that seem to be everywhere. Grabbing a few as I go about my work in the garden is a frequent habit.
Unless you live in the Pacific Northwest, you may not know about this lovely subtly sweet, super delicious berry as it was a hybrid of two blackberry varietals – the Chehalem’ and ‘Olallie’ in 1945. However, don’t let the family of the blackberry fool your understanding of the marionberry’s flavor. As someone who doesn’t particular like blackberries – a bit too tart for me and not enough depth of flavor (this is for me, but everyone has their own preferences), I LOVE marionberries. They remind me a bit of a huckleberry with even more sweetness.
When I saw that my new home had in the garden marionberries, I just about grabbed my realtor and started dancing with him. (He probably would have, as he is a lovely older gentleman full of sincere love for life.) Since my childhood when marionberry pie would be a treat of the year, I have not been able to enjoy them in regularity as they are hard to find and are only available a short while in the summer at the markets. However, now, they are placed in two of my edging borders along a south wall, and they are incredibly happy. The harvest is about to happen.
9. Sweet peas
They say gardening is an ongoing process of learning from both successes and not-yet successes, and such was the case with my growing sweet peas from seed this year. First of all, they are worth growing from seed, as again, it is a cheap and simple way to have the garden you want without breaking your budget at the nursery. Sowing these seeds went rather well, however, I started too late for the short summers that Bend has.
What I learned was that I needed to sow my sweet peas seeds earlier in the spring (I planted mine in late April). As you can see below, my plants are very small and short. They are growing fine, but next year I will start them earlier inside and place them in a bit more sun (but not too much) along a structure.
Inspired by the endless nasturtiums I saw at Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, this year I grew nasturtiums from seed, and they grew very well. Once strong enough, I placed about 50 plants along my sidewalk. Some did well and some did not. What I discerned was that some were being well watered and some were not, so next year, I will plant them a bit differently.
Nasturtiums as many of my fellow gardeners know are entirely edible and wonderful for adding to a salad. They are also helpful in the garden to keep away aphids as well, so a triple win – beautiful, edible and helpful. While there are cascading nasturtiums as I have, there are also more bush-like and climbing varietals. They can seed from season to season, and as Claude Monet found out unexpectedly, they can become a primary feature in your garden. Learning as he went, he found he loved them and continued to keep them as we see them now (tour his garden and his water lily pond here).
What I am loving about my first year in my home’s garden is discovering how it grows and where the sun falls when and the high and lows of temperatures throughout each summer month, etc.. There are many vegetables, blooms and herbs I want to try, and I look forward to doing so in the years to come.
I hope today’s post has inspired you to grow your own potager to not only look at but nibble on and include in your cooking. A small space can be a great space for a grand garden. Have fun, and enjoy forever learning!
If you are looking for places to buy seeds online, I highly recommend the following listed below:
- Johnny’s Seeds for many of the herbs
- Floret’s Flowers for Sweet Peas and Nasturtiums
- Spring Hill Nursery
Below are a handful of books I recommend for exploring how to turn your garden in to a potager – what to plant, how to cook and use them in your kitchen, etc..
~To find these books and many more TSLL has recommended, check out TSLL’s Shop on the menu and click “Books” in the dropdown menu.
~Note to TSLL Readers: On October 1st, TSLL Blog will be putting into place a Soft Paywall. Only three articles will be available to be viewed for free before you will be required to subscribe to view more, AND some content, such as tours of Shannon’s Garden and Home like this one (more wider shots will be included in future posts) will only be available to subscribers who choose the Top Tier – Unlimited Ad-Free Subscriber status. Be sure to learn more about this change in this post. All current ad-free subscribers will be grandfathered in. If you wish to subscribe early and secure the current price, you will be automatically be given the current price. Learn more and subscribe here. Look for more information to be shared on September 1st.
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