Find more garden information
Since colonial times, the typical North American vegetable garden has been a strictly utilitarian venture: a long straight row of beans, next to a row of carrots, a row of tomato plants and a row of onions.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the royal palaces of Europe often had extensive vegetable gardens. In some cases, these gardens were designed to be both beautiful to look at as well as productive. The Chateau de Villandry and Versailles are two of the most famous examples of this period. The gardens were planted out in blocks rather than in rows, with the vegetables filling in geometric patterns that were often defined by clipped boxwood or other low hedging. By grouping vegetables in blocks rather than in rows, their foliage texture, color and structure became an integral part of the overall pattern. Blocks of flowers were often used to help create the tapestry-like patterns.
Ready to plant? For inspiration, check out these planting diagrams for two bed sizes:
Over time, these palace gardens, which often covered many acres, were mimicked on a much smaller scale by home gardeners. This was especially true in France, where the humble kitchen garden, or potager, has long been considered an opportunity for beauty as well as utility. More and more of today's home gardeners, be they in southern France or southern Michigan, are discovering that potagers make sense for many practical as well as aesthetic reasons.
On the practical side, small, well-defined garden spaces are much easier to tend. For today's busy gardeners, that's a big plus. Because the beds are planted intensively, there's little room for weeds, and the plants tend to shade each other, which cuts down on watering chores. Potagers, because they're attractive to look at, are usually located relatively close to the house. When a garden isn't relegated to a far corner of the yard, it tends to get better maintained! For yards with poor soil, the well-defined, contained growing areas make it easy to concentrate your investments in soil improvement.
On the aesthetic side, it's quite wonderful to have a garden that's both beautiful and edible. By adding trellises, arbors and statuary, you can create a very attractive outdoor room that provides fresh, healthy food while enhancing your yard.
When creating a planting plan for your potager, it's best to work on graph paper. Divide each bed into 1-foot squares and then plot out the types and numbers of plants you think you'll be able to fit into the space. Think about combining plants that will create patterns of color and texture: a square of red leaf lettuce with deep green basil in the middle; the ferny fronds of fennel surrounding the bold leaves of cabbage. You'll want to consider spread and height of each vegetable, so the beds don't get too overgrown, and so you're able to find and reach the vegetables as they ripen.
The list below is a rough guideline that can be helpful when you're figuring out how many plants will fit into a given space. The measurements are the approximate width you should allow for each plant. Keep in mind that if you live in Texas and know that your tomato plants get to be 3 feet across, rather than 18", you'll want to allow more space. So use your judgment and be prepared to make adjustments as you go along. Have fun!
Last updated: 7/9/19
Stay up to date on new articles and advice.