Monday, April 2, 2012

Lecture: Designing the New Kitchen Garden by Jennifer R. Bartley

I went to a lecture at Longwood Gardens on Sunday. It was part of the “Branching Out” lecture series that are free to members. This one was about kitchen gardening presented by author Jennifer R. Bartley. The full title of Jennifer’s book is “Designing the New Kitchen Garden: An American Potager Handbook.” Her newest book is a companion to this called “The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook.” 

Ms. Bartley is a well-spoken, landscape architect who specializes in creating kitchen gardens that are inspired by French potagers ( She started off the lecture by describing what defines a potager, or a kitchen garden, and its origins. She shared drawings and photos of gorgeous kitchen gardens at monasteries and French chateaus, talking about how you can gleam ideas from these gardens for your own smaller space. These gardens are linear and symmetrical, giving a formality to edibles. They are as beautiful as flower gardens. Instead of being “painted” with colorful blooms or foliage, they are painted with swashes of color and texture from the leaves and fruit of vegetables – green lettuces, orange pumpkins, etc. They are utilitarian, yet ornamental.  A wonderful example is the vegetable garden at Chateau Villandry in the Loire Valley where there are nine equal sized squares planted in different geometrical patterns. (  

The French liked to have their kitchen gardens within close proximity and within sight of the house. The word potager means “the garden for the soup pot.” To the French, the garden, the table, the home, are all a part of one unified whole. It is a philosophy of living connected to the garden and the seasons. Flowers are as much a part of the kitchen garden as are vegetables and fruits. They attract beneficial insects, as well as give you beautiful blooms that you can gather to bring into the house along with your fruits and veggies. We were given a list of fruits and vegetables by season and a list of flowers by season, as well, to help you time bloom times with your edibles. A suggestion was to plant perennial vegetables and fruits with perennial flowers, and plant annual edibles with annual flowers. 

Ms. Bartley’s one rule is the kitchen garden should be near the kitchen for easy access. Well, she probably wouldn’t approve of my kitchen garden, which is at the back of my yard to take advantage of the best light. Potagers are often enclosed, either by walls, fences, flowers, etc. I am working on the enclosed part, using plants and shrubs as my “walls.” If my neighbor would finally put up that fence they promised two years ago, that would help as well. Sigh...the fence farce continues. 

I enjoyed learning more about kitchen gardening. I will admit that I have not read either of Jennifer Bartley’s books. Instead I read “The New Kitchen Garden” by Anna Pavord. This lecture intrigued me enough to consider picking up her first book. I believe her second one may be too similar to the one I already have.

(An interesting tidbit I learned: Jennifer said that any plant name with the word “officinalis” in it is a plant that would’ve been grown in a monastery. Hmmm, I did not know that.)

Future Branching Out lectures at Longwood Gardens that I’m really excited about and plan on attending:
“10 Tips to Better Garden Photography” presented by Rob Cardillo in September
“Wicked Plants” presented by the author Amy Stewart in October (see my 2/8/12 post on this book)

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