Gardening 101

Why a Potager Garden Makes the Best Vegetable Garden

If you enjoy cooking with fresh, seasonal ingredients all year round, then you’ll love the concept of a potager garden! If being able to step outside your kitchen door at mealtimes and pick fresh herbs and vegetables sounds appealing, then you’ll want to read on.

You may not be familiar with the term potager so firstly let me explain what it is and why (in my opinion) it’s the best form of vegetable garden.

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What does ‘Potager Garden’ Mean

Essentially, a potager is the French version of a raised vegetable garden but with a few key differences. The word potager literally translates to “for the soup pot”. They’ve been used since the 15th century and are designed with both beauty and functionality in mind. The idea is they must be close enough to the kitchen to be accessible as well as be viewed as a thing of beauty.

The purpose of a potager is to be able to eat from the garden all year round. Therefore it’s a mixture of herbs, flowers, fruit trees and vegetables, grown together in a beautiful way. 

The key difference between a potager and raised vegetable gardens is the aesthetic aspect of a potager, which is why I love them. When you’ve only got a small outdoor space available for gardening, what better than to have a productive yet beautiful kitchen garden at your back door! 

A potager is also a great option for beginner gardeners or gardeners who don’t have a lot of space to work with. Designed to make the most of the space you have. A fence line or wall for example can be used for a fruit tree espalier (training the branches of a tree to grow flat against a wall) or adding a trellis for beans or sweet peas. 

It’s no surprise that I’m a fan of potagers (after all it is the name of my blog!) so in this article, I’d love to share some of the key principles of this type of garden that make them both functional and beautiful. 

Potager Garden Design Principles

1. Convenient to the Kitchen

The most important principle of a potager garden is that it’s close to the home and kitchen. With the whole idea being around eating from the garden all year round, your garden needs to be accessible for you to easily nip out and pluck some herbs or vegetables while cooking food. 

To ensure a consistent supply of fresh vegetables, continue planting all year round. Once you’ve harvested the produce from one plant, turn the soil over, add some compost and plant something new. Not only is this great for crop rotation (planting different crops in different places each time) but it’ll keep your ‘soup pot’ full all year round. 

2. An Enclosed Space 

Although not entirely necessary, a potager garden is often enclosed either by a natural or built fence line. This is beneficial in several ways. It will help with pest control, keeping out rabbits and chickens (in traditional French gardens!) and as mentioned earlier, it also creates the opportunity to grow more by utilising walls or fences to grow vining plants or flowers. 

3. Have a Focal Point

This adds to the garden’s beauty and is a key principle in potager garden design. There are many ways to do this; archways, arbours, a birdbath, an obelisk dripping with beans, statues, quaint garden sheds, herb garden, decorative trees… just to name a few. 

The idea is to draw the eye to this feature. This can be done using pathways or lines of plants directing the eye to this focal point.

focal point in a french vegetable garden, an obleisk growing beans and garden shed in background

4. Raised Beds 

Incorporating raised garden beds into your potager garden design not only looks good but makes planting and harvesting easier. Weeds are a lot more manageable as you can line the bottom of the bed with newspaper, and overall it’s less back-breaking work tending to plants. Visit my article on Raised Vegetable Garden Beds for an in-depth guide on how to set these up. 

The shapes of the beds can be varied to make the most of the space – rectangular, square, L shaped, triangular… The key is to consider the symmetry of the beds to help create some sense of order. Using geometric shapes as a guide for this garden style is a good place to start.

5. Incorporate Pathways 

Creating pathways is both practical and adds to the visual appeal. Using bricks, pavers, stone chip or mulch on paths helps prevent weeds and keep the garden looking neat and tidy. 

For convenience, it’s a good idea to make pathways minimum 1m wide so a wheelbarrow can fit easily between beds.

6. Make them Beautiful!

As I mentioned earlier, a potager is all about aesthetics – it has to look beautiful. That doesn’t necessarily mean that plants are grown in neat little rows, no, in fact, a potager is often not planted in traditional rows. Instead, the focus is on planting in a way that looks pretty but is still productive. For instance, making the most of companion planting or making sure sun-loving plants are in the most optimal position. 

As a rule of thumb, choose plants for their productivity first and foremost then plant in a way that you find aesthetically pleasing.

beautiful herb garden with espalier on the wall and garden beds fill of flowers
A potager garden makes the most of every space including garden walls

How to Design a Potager Garden

Begin with measuring and drawing your space. Consider which areas get the most sunlight (ideally you’re looking for 6-8hrs a day) and utilise this area the most. 

The next step is to consider how you’ll position your raised garden beds. Ideally, you don’t want them any wider than 1m so you’re able to access plants from all sides. Consider geometric shapes and the overall symmetry of the garden here. Think about what you’d like to use as your focal point and how to incorporate this into your garden design.

Symmetry, balance & repetition are principles of good garden design. For balance and symmetry, consider placing pots on either side of the entrance and filling with similar plants. Lavender, rosemary or a bright pot of flowers such as nasturtiums are a few options that look lovely in pots. 

For repetition try planting more than one of the same plant at regular intervals in the garden or in a clump. For example, a few tomato plants in a group or spaced out in intervals tend to look more attractive than one single plant on its own. 

Edging garden beds with more permanent plants such as box hedges, lavender, parsley or rosemary also aids in creating structure and symmetry within the garden. 

Tips on How to Plant a Potager Garden

When space is at a premium, plant choice is important. Think about what you cook and choose plants and herbs that you’d use regularly so you can maximise your crop. 

Incorporating a trellis, obelisk, archway or fence into your potager design is another good space-saving idea where you can grow beans, cucumbers and tomatoes. 

Colour and Texture

Colour and texture are a good way to help decide what to plant and where. What’s striking is grouping contrasting colours together. Alternatively, you could go to the other extreme and plant a whole bed in one colour! A purple bed planted with the red cabbage, sage, lavender and red onions would make quite the feature!

Also, consider foliage texture when grouping plants together. There are so many beautiful textures in the garden – straight spring onions contrasted with round cabbage leaves; feathery carrot tops with curly leaf kale. There is also height to consider, with tall staked tomatoes vs. low spinach varieties.  All these beautiful shapes, heights and textures add interest and variety in your garden. 

Flowers are also very important in a potager; not just for their beauty but they’re beneficial to attract bees and encourage pollination. 

bees pollinating a purple flower in a potager garden
Flowers attract bees for pollination in a potager garden

Companion Planting

Companion planting is the practice of planting specific plants together to help with pollination, pest control, shade, provide soil nutrients or to generally increase productivity. 

For example, basil and tomatoes are excellent companions. Basil deters pests and attracts beneficial pollinators, it is also believed to enhance the flavour and growth of the tomatoes. 

The list of plants that go well together and don’t go well together is endless so I’ve created a convenient vegetable companion planting chart for you to download!

Crop Rotation

As with all gardens, it’s important to rotate garden beds annually to balance the nutrients in the soil and prevent soil-borne diseases. If the same crop is planted in the same place each year then it will deplete the soil of the specific nutrients that it needs to grow.  

Crop rotation is relatively easy in a potager garden as the idea is to grow vegetables all year round. Once a crop is finished, add compost and fertiliser then plant a different crop for the upcoming season. 

Final Thoughts on Creating a Potager Garden

When it comes to creating your potager garden, the key is to combine functionality and beauty. What I love is that what you consider to be beautiful in a garden will differ from the next person, which is why gardening is such a wonderful opportunity to express your personality and find joy! I can’t wait to see your creation!

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About the Author

Elle Reed is a passionate gardener and advocate for teaching beginner gardeners how to grow their own food. Elle’s mission is to inspire and empower people to get back to basics, grow their own produce, and embrace a sustainable lifestyle. “Whether it’s a few herb pots in an apartment, a potager or a full garden plot, we can all ‘start somewhere’ to grow our own food, and in doing so, provide healthier food for ourselves and those we love”.