Pretty Little Potager
Potager gardens: the house and garden genre with the greatest show off potential. Look at my kids gardening. Look at my kids eating fresh vegetables. Look at the fresh vegetables I have bought you. Let me tell you what on the plate is home grown…I mean huuugge show off potential.
My potager trumps your business class lounge check in, thigh gap on a sun lounger, kid that looks like it’s a Beckham. Take me on Instagram. The potager is a high scoring scrabble tile.
There is nothing like a stroll in the gardens of Babington House, The Pig or any other country house hotel conceived lately to pique a desire to potter around in a potager. Posh gardening companies are installing them around the country as we speak. The sensible ones resist the urge to let Madame make it too big, just in case she lets the team down when it transpires her heart is not really in it and it becomes an espalier-lined wall of shame.
My top tips:
Just in case it’s not a lasting love affair, make it pretty and put in some symmetrical features to give you a peaceful space. Great design ‘feels great’ as well as just looks great. If it is a disaster you can always fill the beds with low maintenance plants from your garden centre. Willow, brick, stone and even beach collected driftwood make beautiful borders for your growing area. The demarcation between ‘growing space’ and general space is your primary objective. You can order limestone or other gravels for paths to give a Provençal feel and also give yourself some respite from the British mud.
Give yourself a space to sit and have coffee in the morning or a glass of wine on a summer’s evening. Prince Charles was onto something – growing plants seems to nourish you and you’ll enjoy the space more than you think you will. A little table and a couple of chairs will make sure you get the most out of it, and that you maximize the benefit of finally having somewhere where no one can find you.
Do a bit of research on what to plant in England at the right time of year. I am no gifted gardener but between April – September I have had great success with courgettes, lettuce, spring onions, leeks, carrots, parsnips, peas, beans, butternut squash, onions, garlic, corn, potatoes and chard. I let the team down rather on the greenhouse front, currently running a Dubai like growing climate as I learn how to get it under control.
Don’t get too hung up on growing everything from seed and then transplanting them, as satisfying as this is. You’ll probably kill most things before they make it to the garden. Seeds planted straight into the ground stand a better chance as they are more likely to get some rain than rely on the likelihood of you watering them at a critical stage. (Did I mention this was aimed at beginners who are only half committed?).
Embrace the kids. Dirt + Tap (x 2 snacks in the garden and using real tools) = approximately 55 minutes of supervised outdoor activity where you can potage. They won’t plant the seeds in a straight line and the odd offering popping through out of line will give your garden an authentic charm. Even the most anti fruit or vegetable eating child can’t resist a ripe strawberry, fresh bean or shelling their first pea. Potager offerings are the gateway drug to real food.
Pick architecturally pretty things. Onions that have gone to seed look incredibly pretty, as does billowy fennel – be careful though as this pops up everywhere. Red and green lettuces alternated look chic in summer. If you like your cooking but don’t really want to ‘garden’, low maintenance herbs such as sage, fennel, rosemary and thyme look very pretty in pots with their assortment of greens and textures. Very country house without the hassle.
Have a plan for winter. Last year I bought ornamental cabbage and kale and alternated them with leeks along the border. It was cheerful and pretty and still felt productive. Butternut squash and carrots did well to a point.
Google recipes to match your harvest for ultimate show-offy ness. Leek and potato soup, caramelised onion tart with goats cheese, potato and parsnip mash with a dash of vanilla, raw salsas with herbs, corn and courgettes, courgette, pea and mint risotto – all no brainers. Bore everyone to tears with stories about how rewarding it has been (deep down you will mean it).
Finally, fall deeply and madly in love with Cox and Cox. Just lovely and reasonably priced. Click on image to buy.