Building a Potager

P6600754My vision for our garden was always to create somewhere enchanting; somewhere that had a romantic feel, I imagined a place where one could float around while wearing a swirling skirt with a glass of champagne in hand. I didn’t want anywhere that would be taken too seriously, instead I wanted somewhere that would delight the senses, fuel the imagination and be easy to maintain. But above all else there had to be somewhere that provided edible treats. If you have ever eaten a warm sun-ripened tomato straight from the vine, you will know that the taste far outweighs anything bought in the chilled section of the grocery store.

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Our potager has always been a place where we will often find the children on a summer’s evening, feasting away on tomatoes, so sweet and juicy that they become nature’s candy. Throw in a handful of strawberries (and later in the year some plump purple grapes) and it’s all too easy to have a banquet!

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As you know, I am passionate about growing our own fruit and vegetables whenever possible; my idea of heaven is to wander down the garden with a sharp knife and the wooden trug, with no firm idea of what I shall gather, and simply pick what is ripe. I do this with a vague idea for lunch or supper forming in my mind, one I’ll then share with Roddy to elaborate on and ultimately cook – for he is the master chef of the family; whereas I follow recipes, he is perfectly capable of conjuring up mouthwatering dishes without a book in sight. It is no accident, for example, that we ALWAYS have tomatoes, courgettes (white, green and yellow this year), aubergines and peppers  in the potager – neither of us need any excuse to make some ratatouille!

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To this end, our vegetable garden is of great importance to us and the number one aim is that it must provide good home-grown organic produce for the family. But, for me, it’s also important that the potager is aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Whilst the prime consideration has to be the crops themselves, I cannot deny that I wanted something that was in keeping with the rest of the property. I wanted a potager that was both practical and pretty and I think after several years we may be finally getting it right.

P6600738In traditional gardens, vegetables are planted in rows in military fashion. Surprisingly, when we moved here there was no specific potager at all, an unusual state of affairs for a French country house, but there were plenty of herbs, all mixed in amongst the flowers in the herbaceous border. At the far end of the garden there were, and still are, a row of old highly productive grape vines and beyond these was a shrubby area with a few roses, a dead tree, grass that came up to our knees and a mass of old discarded stone against a huge stone wall. I instantly knew this was the place for our vegetable garden. The wall is west-facing and so there would be plenty of sun and also shelter from any cold easterly winds.

 

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The first couple of years we rotovated the land and made a traditional patch in which the vegetables grew well, along with a forest of weeds! Last summer we tried some plastic weed-matting, a somewhat effective affair but the overall cosmetic ‘look’ didn’t sit well in my vision; it grated every time I glanced at it, and I knew it was out of place and ugly. So one dark rainy day last winter, Roddy and I made a plan over a cup of coffee to tidy things up with some raised beds, and to do that we’d use some of the mass of old stone at the back of the potager as low retaining walls. With an idea in place, we left the area untouched for several months and it reverted to a natural state, all remnants of a vegetable garden forgotten.

Fast forward to this spring, and under a blistering early April sun we set to, heaving stones into place.

 

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Once the beds were finished we bought in eleven and a half tonnes of a 50/50 topsoil/compost mix, a venture that amounted to six lorryloads that were unceremoniously dumped into a mound by the grapevines. We’d also made the decision to make it a “No Dig” garden, and following the advice of Charles Dowding (the king of ‘No Dig’ gardening), we laid cardboard over the larger areas of the more obstinate weeds. Roddy dutifully shovelled whilst we helped wheelbarrow the mountain of earth into place. Then we started out with the spades and rakes, and after two days of old fashioned labour we felt very content with ourselves!

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By early May I was panicking that we still hadn’t planted a thing and spring was marching forward at an alarming rate. But then we had a cold snap at the end of April that caused havoc across the area. We reflected that lady luck seemed to be on our side for a change, and planting late this year had been a good thing!

When we did finally plant the weather was hot and sunny, the soil was warm, and everything started to grow alarmingly quickly. The children had their own areas as always and we watered conscientiously from our spring-fed well every dusk amongst the gathering gloom and burgeoning population of insects, and we watched and waited. Things started to flower and carrot tops started pushing up through the soil.

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Our’s is a naturally flowing garden where one section merges gently into another. Down at the end, the vines provide a visual break between garden and potager but there is no fixed fence, one can wander around either side; it’s rather like a large watercolour in which all the edges are somewhat blurred. The old stone provides a retaining wall for the vegetable beds but it’s not a solid hard line, cucumbers and watermelons are beginning to tumble over the sides, softening the look.

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We built the beds around the roses. I knew that they’d been planted there a long time ago for a specific role next to the vines, and I’ve learnt that flowers can be miracle workers in the vegetable garden as they play a dual role in attracting both the insects which keep down pests, and they help to bring in many different species of bee and hoverfly,  all of them key pollinators. I carefully planted nasturtiums amongst my French beans which have for the past three years been plagued by blackfly, and this year it’s been very much a case of “so far so good”. I sowed cosmos amongst the cucumbers and added some marigolds here and there – a decoy for the slugs that worked a treat. There is also a huge white buddleia at one end, standing proudly alone which attracts a mass of butterflies and hawk moths; the commonest visitor is the ubiquitous cabbage white, though this year the peacocks have appeared in great numbers too.

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I also planted some fennel, not just for its culinary value but also because I love the feathery leaves which seem to whisper gently in the breeze, they add great texture to the beds and attract many other beneficial insects, and all parts are edible, the bulb, the leaves and the seeds.

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We planted sunflowers for the children, scattered amongst the courgettes and the aubergines; they are coming up strongly and should be flowering within the next couple of weeks.

And the weeds? Well the good news is they are – for the first time ever – manageable! I admit that I’ve been as vigilant as time allows, using the early mornings before the sun gets too hot to attack them with my hoe (my new trusted friend), scratching out any treacherous interloper that has dared to invade the space. Of course we still have weeds and I don’t mind them so much, but at least they are mostly where they should be. In the autumn, once the heat has subsided a little we shall tackle the remaining stone. I’d like to plant an almond tree and perhaps an apricot too. But for now we’ll keep the self seeded poppies and mint and leave them undisturbed.

P6600900 And here’s a strange insight into the weed question – I remember once asking a French friend in the south of France if a new vegetable delivery box scheme she was suggesting to me was organic. “No it’s not certified or official,” she said “but there are a healthy amount of weeds in the garden.” I opened my eyes in wonderment at her response, for so much made sudden sense. Now I can look back on my childhood home, where our vegetable garden was huge, and where my father grew everything for the house with plenty spare that went into the freezer for the winter months. This was of course before the days when organic gardening became popular, but I never recall the use of any pesticides or insecticides and I do remember plenty of weeds everywhere – all around the edges between the garden and the fields. There were long grasses, stinging nettles, blackberries and a host of other plants, and it was all an edible heaven. We ate as fast as we picked; raw peas from the pods, berries from the fruit cages, tomatoes and salad leaves. Nothing was ever washed, as there was no need.

And today, I now find myself with my own children in the same situation, but just in a different location and with new botanical characters.

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125 thoughts on “Building a Potager

  • Oh my what a beautiful place, romantic being the key word here, so pretty and paractical, you really did achieve your goal.

  • It looks as if you have a great climate for growing vegetables, you are both lucky and sensible to make the most of it. Great post, I always love anything to do with your garden!

    • It is a fabulous climate, we wouldn’t be able to cope if we didn’t have the well which means we can water daily during the hot dry spells, but everything does grow so well. It is wonderful to be able to feed a family of seven straight from the garden! xx

    • Ha ha, it has taken us several years to get this right and now the best part we can sit on the low stones and just feast away! It’s also somewhere to put a coffee cup or a glass of wine, it has fast become my favourite part of the garden! xx

    • It is so satisfying isn’t it. Our beds are not really raised enough to help one’s back or anything else apart from acting as a great natural fence! Hopefully you will have fresh vegetables next summer once again. xx

  • Wonderful advice. I don’t grow vegetables any longer, but my son and daughter do, and both are gardening sustainably and organically. Your garden is beyond beautiful.

  • It’s wonderful. Personally I think nasturtiums always cause blackfly problems, so I never grow them. Marigolds are great too. Love your stonework, it really makes it special

    • Interesting about the blackfly. We were plagued with them the past few years and so after some research I read that nasturtiums would help. This year we have had none. I remember nasturtiums as a child and they were always covered from head to toe in caterpillars. I have no idea if they have been the reason we have no blackfly this year or if it is just a year when there aren’t many or if it was the species of bean I planted. I guess I may never know, but for now I am happy!!! xx

    • It was back breaking work, especially for Roddy who did the lion’s share of all the lifting and heaving. Now of course it seems like a memory, but it took forever and I really did wonder if we would ever have a vegetable garden this year! xx

  • Your garden is lovely Susan! I like the way that you used the stones. Our garden has been doing splendid this year. We had our soil tested & amended as directed & it made a world of difference. I feel better about the weeds after I read your post. I have totally filled my freezer & we are still picking tomatoes & green beans & cantaloupes. Out trip in April to Paris & Normandy was wonderful. Seeing Monet’s garden in Giverney was a highlight of the trip. I can check that off the bucket list. Have a wonderful rest of the summer!

    • Soil really does make a huge difference, we are lucky as the soil here is good in our garden, locally it is very sandy, but the previous owners worked hard over many decades to improve the soil and we were very careful about the soil we brought in, having it tested first on the advice of our French neighbour who is a landscape gardener. We will start having copious amounts of everything ripe and ready soon, then it will be freezing time! So glad you trip in April was such a huge success. Next time you will have to make it over this way! xx

  • The garden is exquisite and my mouth is watering at the thought of a freshly plucked tomato. I think I came down with a back ache thinking about hauling all those rocks and new soil in place. 🙂 As an organic gardener myself, whenever I have unwanted weeds, I use simple table vinegar to discourage them-it is effective and best to use when they first emerge to keep them at bay.

  • You’ve done a terrific job there, and I applaud all the effort. Well done!
    How do you manage to keep the rabbits off though? We have to wire fence around the kitchen garden at home and Perciferous the cat is on veg. patrol regularly with our retired Border Collie Heth as back up!

    • Thanks so much. We have never had rabbits in the garden. I simply don’t think they can get in, we are pretty much surrounded by stone walls. Love the sound of the cat and dog patrol and Perciferous, what a fantastic name. xx

  • Very inspiring, we have enlarged ours as well this year, and everything seems to be growing vigorously in the Guernsey sunshine! Feasting on beetroots, beans, courgettes and spinach beets, to name but a few, think it might be a vegetarian summer!!!!

    • So glad you are having a good summer! A vegetarian summer from the Potager, sounds like it should be the title of a good book and also sounds utterly perfect, so long as I can add in a few eggs from the hens too. What more do we need! Enjoy xx

      • I have never been lucky enough to try any, but I see it won gold in England. We were just talking with some English friends who are here on holiday, yesterday evening about the incredible emergence of British cheeses. xx

  • Gorgeous garden, possibly the prettiest potager I have ever seen. You said the marigolds have helped but how do you deal with slugs and snails, i find they eat everything in sight, that and other pests and I have almost given up on growing any salad items at all.

    • Thanks so much Lisa, I guess we are just lucky we hardly get any slugs or snaps down in the vegetable garden. We get snails galore up by the house but never at the bottom of the garden! Having said that, I do believe that all the natural plants around the edges, keeping a certain amount of weeds that encourage the good insects is the key thing. The more I learn about this natural way of gardening the more sense it makes. xx

  • As a New Yorker, living on noisy, dirty Broadway, oh how I envy your garden! And I laughed at your comment about not needing to wash vegetables that have never had any pesticide on them. I always thought that about the wonderful fruit and veg that I buy at the farmers markets, until one day I bit into a strawberry with some bird poop on it. yeah….now I wash everything.

    • Ha ha, I know where you are coming from! I do check for bird poop on everything! I have seen plenty on our cherries for example and always tell the children to check for it before they eat! With the exception of that, it’s fabulous to eat things straight from the garden, untouched by anyone! xx

  • How beautiful…it is always worth the hard work. It’s even more beautiful than it used to be, if that’s even possible….
    Will email soon….

    Ali xxx

    • Hi Ali, it truly is way more beautiful, last year I was not happy with it at all, the weed matting was so out of place, this year seems to be working a treat and we are so enjoying it! xx

  • You have built the perfect potager, Susan, where you can swish around in your swirling skirts, champagne in hand, picking the ripest vegetables for your private chef to creat culinary feasts! 😉

  • Hi Susan, Ok so I had a “what, hang on” moment for a while there. Did you put the cardboard under the new top soil you had delivered in the raised beds. Does that prevent the weeds surface and gradually break down and biodegrade?? Secondly, with Cosmos, did you nip the early shoots once they had started growing to encourage them to grow double the number of shoots. I didnt do much except for sow the seeds, and now they are long with only one main stem. Monet used abundent planting of nasturtiums along all his flower beds. I wonder if that is why, to cut down on pests on the other plants??
    Interesting, interesting. I wish I had more time. Lovely post and fabulous garden. Happy munching! xx

    • @frenchimmersion; I was plagued by the same question re cardboard but thought that probably the heat got at my brain (again….).
      I have made terrible experiences with nasturtiums when I lived in UK. The plants were absolutely covered in caterpillars (white butterflies???) and black dots – they took over my garden but I love them (in principle….) very, very much – you can also eat practically all of it. Sadly, where I live (just outside of Paris, not a seed packet to be seen anywhere…) – I now content myself with nasturtiums on paintings, the occasional flower picked off a hedge and ‘covering’ the walkpath and don’t have a veggie garden any longer.

      • I remember nasturtiums absolutely smothered in caterpillars as a child at home in England, they literally covered every leaf. Here, and I don’t know why, we have not had the same problem, yet!!! xx

      • Monet lined all his pathways with nasturtiums. They look amazing as an edging. I also haven’t seen any, but I’m starting to think I ought to do a Monet and buy seeds by catalogue!

      • I have you know that you’re speaking to the MONET expert here…. No seriously, I live about 2h by car from Giverny and this is my absolutely best loved trip – always a super delight!!! But also, they do have about 1 zillion gardeners, always busy and hard at work, no smile for nobody, just ‘let’s get on with this’…. 😉

    • Yes we did! The idea is that before the topsoil is put down one puts cardboard down over the most obstinate of weeds. Cardboard decomposes into the soil. We did then have to put a layer of topsoil that was a minimum depth of 15cms, we put 20cms. Yes, I nipped the tips out of all the cosmos so that they are nice bushy plants, as a result they are not flowering yet, but I am hopeful that when they do we shall have plenty of flowers. It’s a fun garden, I try not to take it too seriously, rather just to enjoy it! xx

      • Fabulous, My cosmos are flowering but I didn’t nip the ends. I shall do that next year. I’m hoping to get lots of flowery education very soon as I start guiding Monets house and garden this week after a great deal of revision ( hence the silent blog!!) Hopefully I shall be writing about it shortly. Enjoy the beautiful weather. Long may it continue! X

      • Now I am somewhat envious, sounds like the most perfect place to be doing guides, lucky you, now I shall be looking to you for advice. I visited once so long ago I can scarcely even remember it and now I long to go back! Looking forward to reading all about it with lots of photos please! Weather is fabulous, enjoying every second of it, hope you are too. Xx

  • Susan, your garden is positively spectacular! Kudos to all of you. I think that the plastic you talk about can/should be put under a layer of dirt, thus killing weeds but not being seen. Perhaps I’m wrong, but that’s what I’ve though. I’ve also heard, but haven’t tried yet, that spraying vinegar (not the good stuff) on a plant will kill it without killing everything in the area and polluting the aquifer. Happy eating!

    janet

    • Hi Janet, I do know what you mean about the weed matting which goes under the soil, that is fabulous when one is putting down a layer of stones or gravel. However, the weed matting we used last year was one given to us by our French neighbour who is a landscape gardener. The idea is it goes over the top of the soil and one cuts holes for the plants, but the problem was it looked really ugly and we needed to find a much more permanent solution which I think we have! I have used vinegar on the drive before with some success! xx

  • Susan & Roddy, is there a limit to all your joint venture-doings???? I cannot imagine how you manage to do all that hard work with a large family to feed too…. And 11.5tons of soil…. the mind boggles! Have all those lovely big stones been in your possession before too? How much hard work that must have been (and still is…). I never was a passionate gardener of veggies, I much prefer the flowers but for many years I planted toms and stuff and just then realised that the water /very expensive here) was costing much more than when I buy the produce at their best directly on the market or shop. They often come from Bretagne or even very close by (I pass by some large fields on my way to the supermarket) and I’m a happier person for it. It has to be said that for 2 ppl it’s not really worth it either.
    Learned a new word too: percifer….. 🙂
    I’m sure you’ll explain the cardboard story to heat-withered readers like me!
    Going back to have another look at your majestic potager – you’re true heroes (unsung ones but still….) in my mind. A fresh tomato from the plant, eaten with all the sunshine and goodness contained in it – aaaah!
    Bisous

    • Ha ha Kiki, we both quite like hard work it seems! The stones were here when we bought the house, just dumped at the bottom of the garden, they have quite obviously been there fore decades, we are assuming that at some stage there must have been a barn or small outbuilding there as many of the stones are cut into precise shapes. We are lucky that we have a spring fed well so I can water somewhat liberally without panicking too much about the water bill! The cardboard we only put down in places where there were a heavy concentration of weeds. We put this directly on top of the weeds and then the layer of 20cms of topsoil on top of this. The cardboard is biodegradable and will slowly break down over time, but the idea is it will have suffocated and killed the weeds before it does! So far so good!! xx

      • Oh I quite like that idea with the decomposing cardboard – sounds feasible and natural…. I did try the covering up of patches of lawn, riddled with weeds with a v. heavy black plastic cover. The only effect it had was making a permanent pissoir for all the neighbours’ cats and it looked utterly ugly with the heavy stones we schlepped to put on top of it. It was a rainy spring season and it took me about 3 weeks before I couldn’t stand it any longer and took the whole thing off – now I didn’t have a weedy lawn but a huge yellow-brown patch – the weeds reappeared promptly…. I think that was when I decided not to cry over spilt milk any longer, ever – now if something gets killed, so be it – if it grows, I thank God 🙂
        We have the unique situation that our plot is only accessible via stairs – either from the main entry via a large stone staircase, and turning off the little road in an awkward angle although we have a garage (which certainly hasn’t been used as a garage for well over 40-50 years) or from our private parking with good access it’s a narrow metal stair of some 10 steps – cannot imagine any heavy equipment or any dumping of 11 tons of soil ANYWHERE…. We even cannot have the lawn cut by a gardener because they bring their heavy machines and Hero Husband is pulling our motor mower carefully over the stairs…. it’s all a labour of love and sometimes some light swearing is included too!
        Now I will have to look up the vinegar-salt thing. That sounds promising too.

      • Everything is a labour of love and that’s what makes it special! I read a wonderful article yesterday, in one of those rare couple of hours when I actually got to read a magazine! I took the girls to the beach and just did nothing for a short time but read, oh it felt like utter luxury! Anyway, the article was about a stunning garden and the owner said much of it was semi wild, plants are left to fend for themselves, the strong ones survive and the weak ones don’t and it all looked absolutely beautiful, I thought these were really wise words! Our lawn looks quite horrendous now, huge bare patches of earth from the drought last month, but there is nothing we can do about it so I just have decided not to worry about it now. We will reseed in the autumn when it is cooler and no doubt considerably wetter! Salt and vinegar worked well on the drive but it was not a long term solution, is anything? We have found the weed flame thrower much the best, plus it is rather satisfying to burn the weeds!!! Xx

      • I’ve heard that it takes two years ( or two seasons) for black plastic to permanently kill the weeds. It sounds like a great solution to hide the cardboard underneath soil. Much more attractive. No one with any aesthetic sense could cope with black plastic to look at for that long!

      • No I totally agree and besides once you remove plastic the weeds start growing again just as fast! This idea is that there are still weeds but they are manageable and so far so good! I can cope with a certain amount and it looks so good this year that it makes everyone want to stop and pick out weeds when they see them, so fingers crossed it will all work well! xx

  • Yes, your garden and mine are indeed a piece of heaven, since all of life began in a Garden, n’est pas?

  • Your gardens are superb! Love the stone edge and know that was a ton of work. I have made a path from cobblestones for my garden. They were from downtown St. Louis in the day. Hope you have a very plentiful crops this year. Love those squiggley poles. I’m guessing they are for the tomato plants?

    • Hi Debbie, gosh making a cobbled path would have been a lot of hard work too, but I am sure well worth it, they sound fabulous. The squiggly poles are indeed for the tomatoes, I rather like them! I too hope everything continues to grow and produce lots and that we manage to get some up to the house before everyone eats everything!!! Xx

  • I’ll assume the dressed stones are salvaged from another structure? The others look like rubble infill? I love rock walls and edges. We live in an area famous for granite (and red clay!) – Stone Mountain is about thirty miles away. We have a granite boulder the size of a mini-van in our backyard – it was blown out of the ground when the basement was dug and remains where it landed! The other half is in the neighbors yard next door. Having grown up on a NW Florida beach and been familiar with the beautiful white sands of the Gulf of Mexico we thought this rock was a pretty special feature. Interestingly those sugar white sands are the result of eons of erosion of this same granite that forms the Appalachian mountains. That is an incredible thing to ponder! When I put a spade in the ground I invariably hit a “rock” about six inches down – usually a piece of granite about the size of a dinner plate by 3 inches or so thick, although some are as large as a washtub. Since these are scattered over our entire yard I assume they are a natural feature of our area and not just the result of the construction of the house. As you might imagine we have many low stacked stone retaining walls and edgings. Kudos to you for doing the work yourself. I think there is a lot of satisfaction gained from the physical labor and connection to place. Our house is set amongst towering poplars and hickorys that provide dense shade so we don’t have the sun required for vegetables – but I’m content to admire yours. I think I saw dill in one of the photos? My wife planted one in a pot – it’s pretty hysterical – it has stretched itself up and over seeking light and looks more like something Dr. Seuss would have drawn than a real plant. We’ve named it Geisel after him. Happy gardening!

    • Hi Steven, your giant stone sounds fantastic. It is incredible to think that the white sands are the result of such erosion, sometimes it is hard to imagine so many thousands and thousands of years. The stones appear to have been down at the end of the garden for many decades, we are assuming that they were from a demolished barn or outbuilding as many are cut to specific shapes and others are definitate corner stones, then there are others which are beautifully curved, all obviously cut by hand at some stage. It was hard work, but now we look at it and forget the hard work, we just think it looks fabulous and it is working well, so far! We do have dill but we haven’t named ours, in fact the only things that have names were the watermelons last year! This year we have too many though so they too shall remain nameless. However I do love the idea of Geisel!! Xx

  • I have been reading all about the no dig method on the link you posted. How fascinating, it is not something I have ever heard of before, but I am now quite intrigued. I hope you will keep us informed how it progresses as I can see it is something I should seriously consider.

    • I had heard of it before Jane and had pondered it for a couple of years, but that was as far as I had got, never knowing if it really worked or not. I actually saw an English television programme about it last autumn and that piqued my interest once more. So far, so good and I will of course keep you updated! Xx

  • That idea of using stone to make your raised beds really works. It looks great. We went to a practical demonstration of a ‘no dig’ garden while we were still in France, and it convinced us, though sadly we didn’t stay long enough really to try it properly. So …. good luck. It looks wonderful, and I can almost taste the produce.

    • How interesting that you saw a demonstration. Once we started this we spoke to a French friend who lives about half an hour away and he was very keen on the idea believing that it really did work and he was very positive. Other French friends have been more scathing, so we shall have to wait and see, but so far so good and it does make sense. We are lucky that we had the old stone as it makes a lovely natural border and the vegetables are truly delicious! Xx

      • Somehow this doesn’t surprise me! We were quite surprised and rather buoyed up by the French friend who was all for this and who actually knew what it was! I am hoping that it is as successful as I think it is going to be so that the scathing people might change their minds!! But as you well know, in the country anything new is looked at with great scepticism !!!

    • Thanks so much Bev, it has quickly become our favourite part of the garden, certainly at this time of year, probably because there are edible treats in store and who can resist those warm tomoatoes! Xx

  • Just took another quick ‘promenade’ across your garden – what a work of love, labour and luck too…. Love especially the kid’s own garden bits, the pics where your girls were sitting happily on the stones and daddy slaving away…. 🙂
    Don’t know about the goodie-goodie-side of cosmos, just bought one large plant in a big pot, full of buttons and blooms, I love them – but they never come out a second year. I know I should invest more time into this but with the sun and the heat being such a burden and bother for my ‘princess’ skin, it just never seems worth the while. And then I go to the market and buy myself large bunches of flowers! It’s called laziness – a word you won’t know!
    Bonne nuit, it’s nearly midnight but Hero Husband just got a phone call from a former business friend from Morocco – don’t know what bit HIM to call so late – it just reminded me that is time for some beauty sleep.

    • Kiki, my cosmos are strictly annuals, but so long as you pinch out the tops they do produce good bushy plants that go on for the entire summer, I really planted some because I thought the flowers would look pretty amongst the vegetables, as yet they have not flowered though!!! Your late nights sound like mine, before I know it it always seems to be midnight and yet again I haven’t had that early night I keep promising myself. I blame it on summer evenings, everything slips backwards!!! Xx

      • Was just going to research the Marigolds – I only knew them as the famous ‘marigolds’ rubber gloves …… Now I see they are what I know as TAGETES. I stopped ‘using’ them because they stink really terribly. No wonder they repel the ‘beasts’ – they repel ‘moi’ just as much…. 😉

      • No not the rubber gloves!!! They may stink, although I never noticed that but they certainly are attractive to slugs and snails and goodness knows what, I planted masses in amongst the vegetables and they all got eaten instantly, they are coming back but look rather sorry for themselves, the vegetables remain unharmed and untouched by insect life so they must be doing some good!! Another stunning day here, meant to be very hot again, birds singing, doors wide open, sun shining, Gigi finally has her last day at school, the others are all on holiday, so she is not amused and then the holidays can begin! Life is good xxx

      • This only teaches me that what definitely stinks to me may be super tasty, divine slug food! I might have been far more tolerant had I realised that beore…. But I do not like them and I also realise that my nose is over-sensitive – I should try to ‘do’ perfume 🙂

      • I think you should do perfume, I am sure you have ‘the nose’ because I don’t find marigolds smell nor daisies which we had a conversation about before!! I shall go and do some sniffing!!! Xx

  • How glorious it is! I know you are happy having such a lush garden to tend. I can’t believe you moved all that stone and soil! Loving the picture of the children sitting on the edge eating tomatoes warm and juicy. From the left, your fair English rose, the long haired young man (love the hair!), and your tanned tennis star! Love to all!! xoxo, Nan

    • It is wonderful Nancy, you know how I love my garden, although it doesn’t get the attention it deserves these days, just not enough hours in the day! Everyone is indeed growing up, but you would still recognise them all, essentially they are just the same! Huge hugs and hope you are having a good summer xxx

  • Now that we have got time, being retired, it is lovely to read your long posts. No rush, no skimming… A potager is one of the ‘land’ things we will miss on board our boat.

    • Now you are making me envious, time is just something that I have to find somewhere and there is never enough of it! You will miss a potager but you have so many other things that will make up for it, I think you are going to have a fabulous wonderful retirement! Xx

  • Your garden is gorgeous and so productive! Yes, it is really nice to eat something off the vine right in the garden without a worry. Always so good. And I am most always very happy in the garden. It’s satisfying and the work (if iterative) can be accomplished in the time given. Beautiful post!

    • I am always happy when I am in the garden too, even if there seems like an endless amount of work, there is rarely any pressure, what doesn’t get done one day will get done the next, I find plants the most forgiving! And yes, there is something so satisfying about eating things one has grown, everything comes full circle. Amazingly, despite all the added soil and compost, two self seeded tomato plants appeared, exactly where I had planted the last year, they had come up through 20cms of new soil. They are our own homegrown full cycle tomatoes and for some reason we are most excited about them!!! Xx

      • You will surely laugh with me about what a joyful experience I had with ‘home-grown’ toms…. When we still had the money to employ a woman gardener 2x3h per month, she brought me some compost of a ‘dear old customer’ whom she took on only because the had a hen-house filled with compost from at least 4-6yrs (so she told me). She took what she needed from their chicken-muck and brought it for my geranium jardinières. I dutifully planted the 3 cases with the Swiss coloured geraniums (red and white) and put them up on the windowsill of our bedroom where they had the most perfect condition. Some time later I had funny ‘foreigners’ growing wildly and I quickly realised that the compost was mixed with the soil of my last years’ tomato soil as well as soil from the elderly people’s heap of soil…. That summer I had to construct a sort of a trapeze/net/ball-catcher conception around my geraniums, the windows & shutters, various bendy sticks and more, it was hardly possible any more to see outside and I had the most amazing and unexpected collection of small and big, red, yellow and old-fashion toms, crippled and deformed, beautiful and tasty like none ever before or after. Nearly made me weak in my decision not to plant any veggies any more…. I took photos of the last collection and put them on the kitchen floor – it was so wonderful and crazy, such a gift and surprise. We had some good times this gardener and I, we exchanged plants and seeds, she took stuff of my garden and brought me compost. It only lasted all together maybe 10-12 months (incl winter pause) and then we parted ways. But what an experience that was.

      • Oh how hilarious, not all ancient soil!! But what a pleasant surprise, I always marvel slightly at the resilience of tomatoes, somehow when they grow like this they are far more fun. The experts say that they can be riddled with blight etc., but I’m not bothered, for me the best part is that they are tough little things that grew themselves!! Eating fresh plums from the garden this morning and enjoying breakfast on the terrace, the first weekend of the school holidays! Life is good, aren’t we lucky. Have a lovely Sunday xx

  • Six loads of topsoil! To spread around by yourselves! No darn wonder you can produce this fantastic story on home production!! Your time management skills are to be applauded tho’ 🙂 !! OMG – your potager has come a huge way since your first photos of the kids helping begin the venture . . . and what a joy to see them eating tomatoes off the vine with no need for a lollybag of rubbish . . . ‘ I dips me hat’ as the saying goes!! [Oh, my story of floaty dresses: being the ultimate romantic, for three decades or more I dreamt of returning to Europe for New Year’s and dancing in just such a dress being madly whirled around at the Vienna Opera Ball, drinking sekt before and after of course 🙂 !!]

    • It has come a long way and we are proud of it and we are also really happy just to wander around, see what is ready for eating and to indulge ourselves in everything that is fresh and natural, it’s one of the great charms of summer. Did you ever realise you dream of dancing at the Vienna Opera Ball? My dream of swirling around the garden in a skirt swishing as I twirled is so far fetched, for one I never wear swirly skirts, but it sounds like such a lovely idea in my head! I’ll let the children wear the swirly skirts and do the twirling and I will drink the champagne, now that sounds like a good idea! Xx

  • Susan,your lovely pictures and words just totally sweep us away to a land looking like bliss.
    What could be better than growing all of these divine veggies and then having the joy of consuming them right from the garden?
    I admit that ratatouille is an absolute favorite in our home.
    A million wonderful ways to use/combine;my favorite though is as stuffing for crepes,warmed in oven with a sprinkle of cheese over top.
    (Make double recipe for the crepes,separate into two’s with wax paper in between ,and then freeze.Always ready to to go!)

    • Thanks os much Natalia, Ratatouille is an absolute favourite of ours too, the perfect accompaniment to just about any dish and also fabulous on it’s own for a quick light lunch. Love the idea of eating it in crepes, I often make them for the children for a Sunday morning breakfast, so next time I will indeed make a double batch and freeze half, thanks for the suggestion. Xx

  • This post reminds me that all things worthwhile are usually achieved only with backbreaking work … and suddenly I feel so much better about the weeds that are flourishing in my garden.

    • Yes you are right, I am always telling myself this, that hard work really does pay off! No time to sit and lounge around!! The weeds were waning here with all the heat and drought, but after four days of heavy rain last week they are back with a vengeance, time to get out there and do some more gardening!!! Xx

      • Unfortunately we have perfect weed growing weather right now here! Occasional showers and really warm! I try and tell myself they are good, that they are really just a plant in the wrong place etc etc. The trouble is I am a perfectionist so learning to live with them has taken some doing! Have a lovely weekend xx

  • What a wonderful corner of the garden you’ve created, Susan! Just stunning. And I have to admit, all of that stone is very soothing, I can just imagine wandering around in there, greenery for the eye, and soft stone for the soul. There is something so comforting about old stone, it always makes me want to linger, and I know when Amy and I visit churches, or ruins, or old forts, she always has to drag me away as the stone makes me very comfortable and slows me down. Some attachment to the security genes in our DNA perhaps?

    Ratatouille – who mentioned that? Mmmmm. Bangers, mash and ratatouille – a perfect combination (as long as the sausage is a nice thick Toulouse, and not the wispy thin chipolatas they love to sell in those horrible plastic trays at Carrefour or Champion – you know what I mean, I have no doubt). I shall now have to wander past the green-grocer on the way home and see if they have all the ingredients for a ratatouille. I have stupidly made myself hungry.

    • Stone is terribly soothing I agree, all the mellow soft colours and the cool touch. We are enjoying the vegetable garden immensely this year, because although it has always been highly productive it has never been as aesthetically pleasing as it is this year. Now the two go hand in hand. Roddy is also a love of Toulouse sausages and so are all the children and ratatouille really does go so well with just about everything! Have a great weekend xx

  • I am not much of a gardener having just a flat and a small balcony in Brighton. I read your post yesterday and I felt tempted to try something. This morning as soon as the garden centre opened I rushed out and bought a cherry tomato plant, I don’t do things in halves, so I bought a big one, already full of fruits and now it’s in place and soon I hope I shall be eating sun warmed tomatoes! Anyway I just wanted to let you know!

    • Good morning Sarah, this has really made my morning, thank you. I am so happy that you found the time to let me know. I can just picture the type of large overflowing cherry tomato plant in a big tub that you were able to buy, my sister in law in the UK always has several on her terrace and they produce enough to keep the family going quite happily all summer long. I hope you enjoy many sun ripened and warm tomoatoes straight from the vine and that you have a fabulous summer. Xx

  • We don’t have the luxury of being able to grow our own vegetables at home, but one tip that I got for growing lettuce was to use some old gutter pipe filled with soil. Starting from one end, each couple of days plant a few seeds and mark your progress along the pipe, that way your lettuces should all be maturing at slightly latter times rather than all at once.

    Absolutely love the blog and it continues to be my Friday lunchtime reading which I always look forward to.

    • Thanks so much Eugene. What a brilliant idea with the lettuces, that is always my problem, I have a glut all at once and then nothing. This year I have tried to stagger them and keep planting new ones so that we do have some all summer long, which reminds me, another job I must do this afternoon! With the vegetable garden it does tend to be a slight case of famine or feast! Xx

  • Our potager is 4 raised beds, mainly herbs, with a lovely stone birdbath in the middle. The birdbath was given to me by a dear, dear friend. Newly married they received it as a wedding gift in 1950. “My birdbath” is surrounded by mother thyme blooming with abandon as I write this. Love seeing the children with mouths filled with tomatoes etc.

    • It sounds delightful and you have made me think that maybe I should add something similar down in the vegetable garden. Our birdbath is currently in use by the chickens as their watering station! I can see our vegetable garden is very much a project that is going to keep evolving! Xx

    • I know it is incredible, that is the Charente Maritime for you, everything grows at an alarming rate! The vegetable garden literally looks like a jungle and we are overrun now with tomatoes, just since I took the photos on Wednesday we are now overflowing! Gather you are having wonderful weather too, hope it lasts for you. Xx

      • OK you win…. now I’m seriously jealous….. TONS of toms, fresh from the plant, and I on the other hand thought what a clever woman I was because just before the Sunday market (with the only free day for the market people is the Monday!) finished (around 1.30pm) I bought 6-7 wonderfully smelling ripe toms for €1./kg…. But you DO understand that I couldn’t even buy the water for this price? This doesn’t prevent me from being insanely tomato-envying you guys – will have to put some extra shallots and extra basil on mine tomorrow lunch time to give it that ‘extra bite’ or else I’ll cry over your ‘overspill’… We’re hoping for some rain, had exactly 7 drops so far, I can’t get enough water into my pots and jardinières. Never mind the garden…

      • It was meant to rain here yesterday but it never happened, instead we had a fabulous day, but we did get a few showers overnight, perfect time for it to rain, except we had got back late and the laundry was still on the line as it said no rain was forecast! Oh well, it has just had a second rinse for free and no doubt will be dry in the sun again soon!!! We are lucky as we have a well which we water the garden with, or rather we water the tubs and potager, everything else just has to cope! Now I feel I have to mention that I have just had a feast of fabulous plums picked straight from the tree this morning for breakfast. I love this time of year, it’s the simple things, as I always say! Have a great week xx

  • Such a wonderful garden!! The raised beds are fab!! We have raised beds too…I preach to people all the time about raised beds….and weeds….some are important in an organic garden…for those beneficial bugs and sometimes weeds cover the soil so it doesn’t dry out too much….and some are even edible….
    Wish our garden was a big as yours…but any amount of garden is a bonus!
    Great job!!! It’s beautiful!
    Nancy
    wildoakdesigns.blogspot.com

    • Thanks so much Nancy, I am always preaching the benefits of weeds too and the more I learn about insects the more I realise the good they do, letting the garden take care of itself without too much interference is definitely the way forward. I do agree with you any amount of outdoor space is better than nothing. Have a great week xx

  • Food tastes so much nicer when you’ve grown it yourself! What a wonderful spot I hope all your fruit and vegetables bloom and give you a bountiful harvest! #AllAboutFrance

    • Thanks so much and I certainly agree with you, there is just nothing like a perfectly imperfect shaped carrot or cucumber! One of the great things about summer is eating all the fresh produce. Have a great week xx

  • I love your potager. I took the decision to relocate ours this year from our front garden to the back, where we are creating raised beds. It’s meant that this year I have grown very little myself and I’ve missed it terribly. Still for next year it will be in a much better location and bigger! #AllAboutFrance

    • All very exciting for next year as you say. I know how long these things take, there is no such thing as a quick garden project! We still have so much to do with the potager, tidying up the old stone etc., but all in good time. For now we are just enjoying feasting on everything! Hope you are having a lovely summer. xx

  • COMPLETELY CHARMING AND ROMANTIC!
    WE DO THE SAME……………….
    RAISED BEDS…………….and THE ITALIAN TENDS IT………he loves to come home about 7pm and run down and water than he gathers the hens eggs………….I wouldn’t have it any other way!
    XX

    • Sounds like you have it perfectly arranged! But I always have the picture of you collecting eggs in my mind, in a huge beautiful swirling coat with large pockets to put them all in! Raised beds are certainly a great way to go I agree, we are so enjoying the garden this year. xx

  • Love love love what your shown us today, and what you’re written. Those of us in the USA realize we don’t get the perfection of fruits & veggies that you in Europe do, as commerce has taken the “freshness” out of all of it. Nothing tastes like it used to and more and more people are planting their own spaces. I recall a dinner at Le Moulin des Mougins where I was served a Squash Blossom for the 1st time in my life. That experience was a never to be forgotten one. Fresh tomatoes, eggs !!! To D.I.E. for !! xx’s

    • Thanks so much Marsha, there is simply nothing like eating home grown produce with all their quite normal imperfections! Eating flowers is always such a treat, I can totally imagine your delight at being served a squash blossom, there is nothing quite like it. One of the lovely things about summer is all the fresh homegrown things and we are lucky to have eggs all year round from our hens. It’s a simple life, but a very good one! xx

  • What a perfectly lovely potager. I would love to float around it with a glass of champagne with you and pluck off a fresh ripe tomato! I’m hopeless at growing veggies and gave up a few years ago but reading this makes me want to start again. Thanks for linking up to #AllAboutFrance, I’ve had rather a long break from blogging but back again tomorrow with another session, hope to see you there.

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