If I were limited to one book on creating a beautiful potager I’d pick this one, “The Ornamental Vegetable Garden” by Diana Anthony. There’s a dozen or more on that topic in my shelves, but this is the book I grab for quick reference, for inspiration, or for checking the recipe for an organic pest spray.
Anthony states at the end of the introduction, which is a brief history of the potager concept, “The vegetable garden of today is an exciting place where art and practicality have married; their offspring – a fabulous range of ‘designer veg’ which are easy to grow, visually pleasing, and exceptionally good to eat!” That’s a great summary, but I would add that in these days of shrinking habitat, potagers (which traditionally contain not only vegetables, but herbs, flowers, and fruits) are also vital because they provide a “Green Bridge” and safe haven for many of our most valuable pollinators.
This book contains a wealth of valuable information. The author assures us that anyone can create a beautiful kitchen garden, and provides clever ideas for dealing with slopes, irregular spaces, long narrow sites or very small spaces using traditional designs or innovative concepts. Guidelines for design, laying out and constructing formal or informal potagers are given in detail. Pathways, fencing, trellises and other vertical structures are not only discussed, but installation steps and suggestions are given through text, drawings, and photographs. Photographer Gil Hanly captures the essence of a variety of potager styles and concepts in dozens of beautiful, inspiring photographs. Turn the pages and one is sure to find a style or idea that appeals. Study them closely to understand the subtle variations in color and texture, or the materials used that could enhance one’s own garden.
Instructions for creating nearly everything a potager might need, from paths to plant supports; taking cuttings for inexpensive, quick-growing hedges; scarecrow making, coldframe and cloche construction, to pruning patterns for fruit and nut trees are included. The chapter on planting emphasizes color, texture and contrasts for visual impact without reducing productivity. The tips on general garden management, succession cropping, and interplanting are thought provoking. Detailed information on possible vegetables to include in the ornamental vegetable garden (from asparagus pea to zucchini) is delightful, containing not only vital cultural advice and varietal suggestions but often interesting historical bits, harvesting tips and companion plants. The book was first published in 1997, so obviously there are many newer varieties that can be considered for today’s gardens, and the availability of seeds has skyrocketed, but sometimes the old heirlooms are still desirable. If not, a quick search will provide a source for those purple carrots or red celery, or the desirable compact varieties best suited to an ornamental kitchen garden today. There is an entire chapter devoted to the herbs and flowers traditionally included in the potager, and another covering tiny spaces and container gardening. The photos will make you want to start digging! Detailed, quick reference charts like the sample above indicate the colors available for each type of vegetable (foliage, stems, flower and fruit colors are designated) plus the plants’ general height, spread, and cultural needs (sun, water, supports, etc.) The flower chart categories show if the plant is “edible,” “bee/butterfly attractor,” “pest repellent or attractor,” “predator attractor,” or is a useful “green manure” crop. There are also charts for fruit and nut trees, and another for Oriental vegetables.
The final chapter is an extensive look at organic methods and management. After all, the main purpose of the vegetable garden is to provide healthy, safe food. Crop rotation, biologicals, beneficials, green manures, companion planting, composting, mulches and various organic sprays to combat insects, slugs, pests and diseases are provided.
The information provided in this book is timeless. Although the author is British, she has gardened around the world and created potagers on several continents. If you are interested in making your vegetable garden not only productive but beautiful, obtain a copy of this book. It is one I treasure, and I’m confident you will feel the same.