The Art of French Vegetable Gardening

The Art of French Vegetable Gardening thumbnail
French kitchen gardens use intensive growing methods and ornamental design.

Kitchen gardens in France are referred to as potagers. They are formal, decorative gardens enclosed by fencing or shrubbery, packed with fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers planted in symmetrical and geometrical patterned raised beds. Plants are grown tightly together with paths between the beds, creating attractive patterns. Potager gardens can be plotted on graph paper to design attractive patterns for planting. The potager intensive gardening style was practiced by French monks in the 16th century as an art form as well as practical gardening.

  1. Enclosures

    • Potager gardens are self-contained gardens from which to harvest fruits, vegetables and herbs. Natural fencing materials such as bamboo or woven twigs complement and shelter the growing plants and keep out rabbits, raccoons and other marauding animals. Plant shrubs around the outside of the garden instead of installing fencing, growing box, arborvitae or sweet bay as a living fence.

    Constant Harvest

    • Be prepared to harvest from the potager garden at least weekly if not daily. Plan to grow all the herbs and vegetables your family needs and wants for the whole year in the kitchen garden. Clipping fresh herbs and baby greens, cutting flowers for the table and pinching back tips of plants to encourage bushy, stocky growth are necessary to keep intensive gardens neat and growing well. A walk through the garden first thing in the morning or in the evening after dinner, carrying a basket or garden trug, hand trowel and garden snips and about 15 minutes of gathering and tending is a good habit to get into. Sow more seeds as herbs and vegetables are used up for succession crops.

    Geometric Patterns

    • Review traditional potager garden designs for ideas. A good way to design a potager garden is to plot it on graph paper using colored pencils. Start by measuring the areas for paths and planting beds, drawing them on the graph and then deciding what to plant. Draw in the types of vegetables to be planted, mirroring beds on opposite sides or corners of the paths to create patterns. From the drawing, make a list of the types of vegetable and herb seeds and plants you'll need and any materials to create the garden, such as retaining wall bricks to make raised beds or compost, mulch or gravel for paths. Patterns with squares, circles and diamond shapes are common in potager garden layouts.


    • Keep the ornamental aspect of potager gardens in mind when planning your design. A garden fountain or decorative bird bath makes an eye-catching centerpiece for a circular kitchen garden. Other accessories to incorporate include hanging lanterns, garden thermometers, rain gauges, gazing balls and bird feeders. Sculpture, flags and stepping stones add special touches to kitchen gardens.

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  • Photo Credit petit potager image by indochine from

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