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The Art of a French Vegetable Garden

The perfect potager depends on healthy soil, a mix of plants, and a goal of growing delicious fruits and vegetables.
This garden, laid out as an elegant parterre, has wide bluestone and brick paths between beds defined by neatly clipped boxwood hedges.
Tepees of long sticks give pole beans something to climb on and make them easier to harvest.
Tie brussels sprouts to stout bamboo stakes to keep them from flopping over.
Espaliered pear trees make efficient use of limited space, especially when vegetable seedlings are planted at the base.
‘Rainbow’ Swiss chard is a colorful and luxuriantly leafy counterpoint to the straight lines of the path.
A 6-foot fence around the entire garden will protect crops from deer, while netting will protects berries from birds.

A French vegetable garden is a pretty and productive garden in which vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers are all grown together. Classic design and formality is not a requirement. Here are some tips on creating a successful potager:

Full Sun: Plants must get at least 6-8 hours of full sun daily.

Mix plants: Grow herbs and flowers (nasturtiums work well) as edging plants to dress up the beds. Add a few fruits, perhaps a pair of dwarf apple trees or a few strawberry plants.

Add flowers: Include cutting-garden flowers (Profusion zinnias, calendulas, sweet peas) to attract beneficial insects and snip for simple tabletop bouquets.

Structure is nice: Include vertical elements. For example, grow pole beans on a tepee made of long poles to add height and boost productivity. Snake pea tendrils up a pretty trellis.

Soil amendments: Adding organic matter such as compost, leaf mold, mushroom compost, aged manure, and other organic amendments brings nutrients and micronutrients to the plants, increases the soil’s ability to retain moisture, and improves drainage.

Mulch: Top soil with 2 to 3 inches of an organic mulch to reduce moisture loss from the soil in the summer’s heat, help control weeds, and contribute to the structure of the soil. When you harvest the crop, turn the mulch into the soil. Earthworms thrive in soil full of organic matter, making the soil even healthier.

Practice companion planting and succession planting: To keep the garden full and lush through the growing season, partner certain plants and fill gaps after harvesting. Books such as The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy, Rodale’s Successful Organic Gardening: Companion Planting, and books by the British kitchen-garden expert Joy Larkcom, can guide you.

Experiment: Follow your whimsy and remember—the point is to grow healthy vegetables that you will enjoy eating.

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