potager design

Each year I sketch the kitchen garden to picture what will live in the protected, somewhat rabbit-free potager and what can thrive outside it, integrated into the beautiful perennial garden along the lake. I learn more every year, happily. Last summer’s disaster of crashing tomato vines, at once productive (for the tomatoes) and destructive (for everything else) has led to this redesign.


After much gazing through images of arches, bamboo sculptures, wires tensioned like bridges, and obelisks, I’ve made a plan. I hope to build traditional trellises, the tuteur, out of cedar. The obelisk is such an old fashioned feature of an English garden, and should lend my funny veg patch some order. See the circles in my drawing? There they are. I can grow peas up them early in the year, and tomatoes later on, benefitting from the nitrogen they’ll set. They ought to be very strong and very tall, and in place well before the vines are planted, quite in contrast to last summer’s toppling bamboo frames. They might be quite pretty through the winter, too. I like that the pyramid-shape will keep the tomatoes from shading out too much of the garden, though a wall of tomatoes is quite tempting.

Below the drawings I’ve listed all the plants that might do best in the potager, with some vague ideas about the shelling pea bushes giving way to pepper plants, to be replaced later on by kales or purple-sprouting-broccolis. Spinach or lettuce might like to live in the center of the wide obelisks in spring, to be shaded out by vining tomatoes by summer to give them a little more time. Beans will enjoy growing up the bamboo that live at the north end, or along the fence. There. That’s the idea.

In one section I’ll swap out a cucumber frame for coldframes, after harvest-time. I hope to keep a series of seedlings at the ready to plant into this space throughout the summer, and leave us with some plants that can weather our maritime winter.

I’m quite fond of dotted-graph paper for its subtle order, in which 1 square: 1 foot, loosely measured off of our unruly garden space.

First I’ve laid out a hose across the land to get some idea of how the new path will run, with modifications for the irrigation system. Oh right. Later I’ll toss down some wood shavings, then wood chips to mark off the path. For now I must move slowly, recovering from an illness, yet compelled by tiny seedlings appearing under the coldframes. Wish me luck with the tuteur construction!


Over the weekend we drove through beautiful countryside to visit a dear friend, Catherine, who is a brewer in a local pub. She’s taught me about hops and coppers, carmelised barleys and the whole alchemy – we will tell you the story sometime! We took a walk along miller’s streams in the Worthies, pottered about the vintage market in Winchester, and shared a gorgeous meal at a pub with an enviable potager in West Meon. The last afternoon we looked round the astonishing Petworth House. Its galleries, architecture and park are all quite incredible, but it’s the kitchens that I adore.

copper pots at petworth © elisa rathje 2012

The kitchens boast a copper batterie de cuisine of a thousand pieces. I believe them. Copperware all over. There are fascinating relics preserved by the National Trust in every room, the scullery, the pastry room, the larder, the servants quarters. You’ll know by now that I was in heaven. I can only imagine the dinner parties that were thrown in such a place, a shame Turner didn’t paint those too. Petworth has a gorgeous park, one cannot blame him for painting outside.

Now I must go look at the kitchen being spring cleaned.

potager du roi

Our last day in Paris was a beautiful one in contempt of weather predictions, so in spite of how tired we were, we made the long hoped-for journey out to Versailles. The palace is gilt and grand, but we turned and wandered through pretty streets to find the original kitchen garden, Potager du Roi.

potager du roi © elisa rathje's sweetheart 2010
My sweetheart photographed the gardens while we pottered about with the children, wishing we could pull up the frothy green carrots, and that the pears were ripe enough to pinch.
potager du roi © elisa rathje's sweetheart 2010

Admiring the warm walls, the cordoned fruit trees, rows of artichokes, strawberries, cabbages, so much gorgeous food.

potager du roi © elisa rathje's sweetheart 2010

Pretending we were French royalty, obsessing over peas. Or head gardeners. Or horticultural students. It was a delight.