A kitchen garden with a French twist

SECRET GARDEN: In France, the flower garden conceals a lot of very welcome and tasty surprises, handily located near the kitchen. Photo by Geoff Goodfellow.

SECRET GARDEN: In France, the flower garden conceals a lot of very welcome and tasty surprises, handily located near the kitchen. Photo by Geoff Goodfellow.

WHENEVER anyone travels somewhere new, they usually come home with a few bright ideas after seeing a different or better way of doing something, don’t they? In my case I often get inspired by the vegetable gardens I see after looking over someone's fence.

I think this habit of looking over fences began years ago when travelling in Russia, then Latvia and later in Germany.  These countries have all gone through rough times, yet their people have been so resourceful by growing food gardens in order to survive. We could all learn from them.

We are just back from a few weeks rattling around south-western France where I was really impressed by the potager - or kitchen garden - a thing of great beauty as well as a terrific source of vegetables, herbs, fruit and cut flowers.

Rather than have the veggie garden out the back and the flower garden out the front, the French potager is both ornamental and useful, with the veggies, herbs and fruit trees growing among brightly coloured flowers.

As well as being pretty, the flowers attract bees, which pollinate the vegetables.  

Even if you are not normally a vegetable gardener, it is really easy to pop a punnet of leafy greens or a tomato plant in among your flower garden. There is always a hole between plants somewhere.

Perhaps the best way to start though, is with herbs. Apart from being useful in the kitchen, most herbs are really attractive. If you plant a few of your favourites among the flowers it is so easy to just slip out to the garden and snip off a bit of coriander, dill, chives, parsley or whatever takes your fancy without having to go to the supermarket.

They are so much fresher and tastier than the often travel weary bought stuff.  

Travelling around in France you see the potager concept incorporated from the very basic pot garden on a tiny block, into the allotments beside the railway tracks and, at the extreme end of the scale, in the impressive kitchen gardens of the rich in grand chateaux.

But it is the allotments beside the railway tracks that always catch my attention. On otherwise useless waste land, town folk and apartment dwellers across Europe plant productive little vegetable and flower plots.  

Mind you I heard a sad tale about one such allotment in a French village when poor old Pierre went out to dig up a cabbage for dinner, had a heart attack and dropped dead right there in the middle of his veggie patch.

The next day the neighbours went to visit his widow, Antoinette.

“Oh Antoinette, I’m so sorry to hear about Pierre,” said the neighbour. “What did you do?”

“Opened a can of peas instead.”

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