Building a Potager

As any of you who have followed me over the years will know, I love our potager. I am absolutely no expert but I’m a willing amateur gardener, happy to take as much advice as anyone can give me and learning all the time. One of my biggest pleasures is providing healthy organic produce for the family. Maybe it is my motherly instincts kicking in, but sitting down to eat the simplest of foods; some salad leaves, tomatoes, cucumber, maybe some carrots or green beans, perhaps aubergines and courgettes, I’m not fussy. But knowing that I have grown them, harvested them and that they are now sitting on our table feeding our children is one of the best feelings I know. It is such a simple pleasure that it is hard to put into words why this exactly brings me so much satisfaction and happiness, I only know that it does.

When we moved house back in March one of the things that preoccupied my spare moments was where we would build the potager. As the days sped past at an alarming rate, April crept up on us and we were no closer to even starting to put any sort of plans, (even though they were only in my head) into action. Eventually I took out a piece of the children’s school graph paper and drew some sketches, mapping out where the existing fruit trees were and where we could possibly add some beds for vegetables. The problem was I wanted it to be practical but I also wanted it to look pretty and we needed to work around trees and the existing soft fruit.

With just some rough plans I set out one afternoon and gathered the old pieces of planking that were lying outside. I laid these out into long rectangles where I thought the new beds could go. Once satisfied that it might work, Roddy and I got to work with the help of the children when they were home from school and we organised a delivery of several tonnes of topsoil from a local farmer.

The topsoil turned up several days earlier than was originally planned and rather unceremoniously dumped in the top entrance to our garden. One that we never really use and one that is situated along a small little lane. Our topsoil was now blocking access to two other properties. Admittedly no one else ever uses these back secondary entrances either, but we still had to move fast to clear it in case, on the off chance, that someone decided to use this little lane.

We were determined to build these beds with only reclaimed timber that we already had, leftovers from old projects that the previous owners had just stacked beside the stone walls. When we got close to finishing but ran out of wood, a neighbour who had been watching with interest walked over with several more planks, he too had some he didn’t need and was more than happy to let us have them.

In the interim our little greenhouse was a godsend. Already here when we bought the house, a friend called it a delightful garden apart from the ugly greenhouse. Of course they were right, it is not particularly pretty and certainly neither stylish nor elegant but it is practical and it works and gosh I have had so much fun already, in just a couple of months with this little greenhouse. It may be an ugly duckling but I’ve grown very fond of it in a very short space of time!

With the beds taking shape we were able to start filling them with the topsoil. We made sure the layer was at least 20cms deep and put it directly on top of the existing grass. Then we added several bags of good quality compost to each bed to enrich the soil. It will be a long slow process slowly getting this soil to where we want it to be but this is a great beginning.

We also had several currant bushes and raspberry canes, all in much need of some TLC. We bought many bags of organic hemp which we have used as a mulch around the base of these and during this winter we will use a lot more on the vegetable beds to help improve the soil.

I then came up with this crazy idea that I would like an obelisk in the potager. I started out suggesting one and quickly changed that to three! As it is not as large as our previous one I was a little concerned about space. We grow a lot of cucumbers because we eat so many, one a day without any problem but they require a lot of room. However, last year I did a little research about growing these vertically as a friend had done so with great success. I knew they would need a tough support system and thought the obelisks would be ideal. Roddy, my brilliant husband, willingly set to work. I showed him a photo I had found on instagram of what sort of thing I wanted and he began to build them for me. Within a couple of days we had the basic design.

With the obelisks in place it was time to start emptying the greenhouse of all the tiny vegetables I had been watering every day. Some bought from the local garden centre and others sown from seed.

As the days turned into weeks everything started to take off. Is it just me or does anyone else study their garden day and night, looking for any tiny signs of new growth, watching as things start to grow.

I’ve purposefully added herbs; lavender, borage and oregano into the beds. I’ve done a lot of reading about companion planting and have tried to use plants that will grow well together. I’ve also planted nasturtium and marigolds and dotted here and there are cosmos. It’s a mixture of a semi formal orangised potager with a typical English cottage garden, a little bit of the unexpected because I absolutely love mixing flowers with the vegetables. It’s not entirely conventional but at the end of the day, I’m the one who works in this potager and if it makes me smile and makes me happy then honestly, I’m planting my flowers with my vegetables!

I’m now researching old fashioned perennial vegetables with plans to add some of these in the autumn and I’ll keep you up to date with anything interesting I learn on this front.

Now another two weeks down the line, some rain followed by a lot of really warm sunshine and the tomatoes are producing plenty of green fruit

and the cucumbers are so far behaving exactly as I hoped. With a little help they are climbing upwards.

And away from the potager in the courtyard garden our biggest success story has been the basil. We have failed miserably with basil year in year out. The only time we had any success was nearly fifteen years ago when it grew in tubs in a sheltered spot. This year we had a few excess tomatoes and so I thought it would be fun to have a couple of cherry tomato plants growing in the courtyard right next to the kitchen. I planted some tiny basil plants in with them not particularly hopeful that they would survive. But they have thrived, they seem to increase in size overnight, finally we have found a spot that they love! Everything I read tells me basil is the perfect companion for tomatoes. So I’m already dreaming of plates of sliced tomatoes still warm from the sun generously sprinkled with leaves of basil, some olive oil and pepper and yum yum, simple food straight from the garden.

22 thoughts on “Building a Potager

  1. An enormous job but a job well done all around. Roddy, I love your obelisks! I have to admit once again that since moving to Arizona I have even more garden envy that usual because of how difficult it is to grow veggies and flowers here. Last year I made the mistake of planting in spring as I did in the Midwest, whereupon all my plants eventually dried up, despite regular watering, shade, etc. I’ve now started growing a few things indoors, basil (keeping my fingers crossed), thyme, and oregano with plans to add a few other herbs/veggies. Of course the time to plant here is in the fall/winter, so I should start planning for that. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy your beautiful potager and its bounty.


  2. Looks great! I do have a question though about just dumping the topsoil on top of the grass. The place I moved into a few months ago has patches of grass that come up amidst the flowering bushes and plants. I am constantly having to weed them out but can’t get down to the roots as there is so much growing around it, so I end up picking the tops out only to have to do it almost daily. Won’t you end up with grass growing up amidst your veggies and flowers?

    1. That would be my question too! When I got my mini (micro) garden next to our rental flat, my son dug a good 15cm deep into the grassy soil, turned it around, took the most of the stones and weeds out, then we added some 15cm of new top soil and still I had to ‘weed’ daily. My ONE cucumber plant was totally eaten by either slugs or grubs (maggots), about 5 of them I dug out and put out in the lawn for the birds’ morning delight…. I planted a second plant which so far is growing very, very slowly.
      my BEST basil grew in a largeish pot in France. I had the plants in the indirect sun in our veranda and watered them only along the rim of the pot. Here in Switzerland I didn’t dare to put them into the large pots outside, I keep them inside and water them daily sparingly.
      The obelisks were forever and a day on my garden wish list but it won’t happen as we haven’t any right to do ‘our own thing’. So I enjoy yours!

  3. What a wonderful edible sculpture garden your imagination, hard work and previous experience in the area have wrought ! You began your travail but months ago and look how what you have planted loves you !! And you are making it a little English-cottagey with blooms here and there . . . methinks your vegetables fully appreciate their privileged situation and rise taller and wider to have a look and preen 😉 ! Love the look of those sturdy but practical obelisks and don;t blame you an iota for loving to spend obviously practical time there . . . . best to all of you . . . enjoy !!

  4. Looks so beautiful congratulations and I am jealous as I wish my husband could build some of those!! All the best:)

  5. You are a born educationalist: teaching us the basics along with recording how much work actually goes into your beautiful and productive garden. This has been an interesting journey which I have enjoyed following.

  6. A woman after my on heart. Yes I watch our garden grow every day, several times a day, waiting to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Weeding and gathering in are pleasures to enjoy as long as the old back holds out. Sharing is equally enjoyed. Feeding ourselves with what we grow keeps our immune system healthy. All of this grated to us by our Heavenly Father.

  7. Things “conventional” started out as “innovative” – you are creating a new “conventional” – or you will find out someone else even did this before you! I personally think it is a wonderful idea. And don’t you feel that all is right with the world when you can feed your family from what came about by your own hands! Love your postings and photos.

  8. Love your comment about how at the end of the day after all it is your potager and if it makes you happy and makes you smile then you you are planting your flowers with your vegetables. Your little potager is adorable and those flowers will not only bring beauty but pollinators that will increase your vegetable production. Especially that borage. Bees love it! My potager has grown significantly over the years….I now have 21 raised beds along with areas for growing potatoes, corn, pumpkins, grapes, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. Last year we put in underground water systems to each bed and finished the pathways with gravel. It absolutely love it! However I very much remember the days over 30 years ago when we started out. I raised the soil in each bed but did not get raised beds within frames until years later. The process has been such a learning experience but also brought such joy, exercise, beauty and delicious food. My garden is my happy place…..wishing you many fun productive years in your happy place too!

  9. I am in awe, and just a wee bit envious, gotta admit. Living now in a condo in Scottsdale, Arizona, my “gardening” efforts are restricted to pots on the decks, but even then I am thwarted by our insanely hot temps (upwards of 118F this week)! The story and photos of the making of this delightful garden are wonderful. Congrats!

  10. I like to grow things vertically too in our vegetable garden. Your obelisks look nice but if you want to grow more things vertically you might want to build a frame instead of adding obelisks. I made some out of plastic sprinkler pipe (or you can use plastic electrical conduit pipes). Two vertical pieces about 6-7 feet tall and a crossbar about 3-4 feet long. Connect the pieces with sprinkler pipe right-angle fittings and they just hold together by friction; I don’t use any glue. I drop twine down from the bar and let things grow up. The advantage of twine is it’s compostable so when the season is over I simply pull the old plant up and discard everything instead of having to unwind the plants from a structure. Beans, peas, cucumbers grow vertically but you can also grow heavier things such as melons and butternut squash (these would probably do better on a sturdier support such as the obelisks)

  11. So happy to read your blog and see your photos. I follow you on instagram but don’t find it nearly so interesting and enjoyable. I know this blog must take so much of your time so I really appreciate it and I am sure many more feel the same. Would love to sit at your outdoor table and eat your homegrown delights. Bless you and your family – you are an inspiration to us all.

  12. Your garden is already thriving. Here in the Midwest US, I began planting early to mid April. While I have had an abundance of kale and lettuce, I’m still waiting for tomatoes and cucumbers to even produce buds for fruit. Patience! Glad your basil will be thriving this year. Can’t wait for pics of tomato salad laced with fragrant basil leaves 🙂

  13. Looks amazing. I look forward each week to your blog. It’s practical, informative & beautiful. Keep up the great work guys.

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