Gardens can please eye as well as palate
By LEE REICH
When locating your vegetable plot, keep it close to your house.
’Tis the season when everyone gets the urge to plant. And if you choose to grow vegetables, there’s no need to relegate them to a far corner of your yard, where they are sure to suffer neglect.
A vegetable garden need not be an eyesore. It can be an oasis of beauty, pleasing your eyes as much as your palate.
Just visit or find a picture of Villandry, the famous French potager (“kitchen garden”) near Tours, France, with its patterns of geometric beds filled with growing vegetables. Some beds are bordered with low boxwood hedges — 19 miles of them — and the whole garden is interlaced with white, gravel paths.
In fact, call your vegetable plot a “potager” and right away you might find it more charming.
When locating your potager, keep it close to your house, and consider that it needs at least six hours of full sunlight each day.
As the old saw goes, “Put your vegetable garden no further from your back door than you could throw the kitchen sink.” Or maybe even from your front door. (And that old saw dates back to when kitchen sinks were made of cast iron!)
Whether it is near or against your house, establish connections — visually and physically — between it, the house and the rest of the landscape. For instance, mimic in or around your potager some design element from your house or yard: a decorative fence, a row of clipped hedges, a piece of statuary.
Paths create visual and functional connections. Choose paving for paths that matches that of a nearby patio or echoes the pattern on a floor in a room looking out at the garden.
Straight paths have a formal air, if that’s the tone of your yard, while curving ones lend themselves more to informal settings. To further tie everything together, run paths from your house right up to and into the vegetable garden itself.
Paths, paving, fences, hedges, statuary and other “tie-ins” help overcome a common limitation of vegetable gardens: their often dreary appearance in winter, when, too often, they are just dirt.
These tie-ins can help carry the overall design of the garden through the winter. Create beds in your potager, perhaps geometric in shape, perhaps flowing; in either case, beds whose shapes create year-round patterns of beauty. Define your garden with hedging, arbors, fencing and paving.
Finally, remember: A potager isn’t only for vegetables. No rule says you can’t plant some ornamentals to help keep up appearances through winter. The shapes and lines created by small, densely twigged plants, such as potentilla, shrubby dogwoods and cotoneaster, as well as boxwood, heather and other small evergreens, make their statements year-round.
Come spring and summer, add vegetables themselves to your designer’s palette: frilly red or green lettuces in all shapes, blue-green leaves of kale, a backdrop of feathery asparagus leaves. And some flowers — for distraction from those temporary bare spots where you’ve picked delicious vegetables for eating.