May is the magical month where Mother Nature banishes frost and earth warms to nurture tender plants and flowers. It is the ideal time to create your dream potager. A potager, or French kitchen garden, is a charming informal garden in close proximity to the home. Holding vegetables and herbs for snipping at a moment’s notice, most potagers also contain flowers for color splashes and drawing in pollinators.
Landscape architect Sara Furlan has been creating kitchen gardens for most of her life. She fell in love with gardening as a child, delighting in visits to her across-the-path neighbor who had created an extraordinary potager. “The soil was so soft I could push my hand through and pull out a potato,” she exclaims. Sara’s parents grew up in farming families, and she credits her father with nurturing her love of gardening. “He allowed me to develop seeds on the sunny sideboard in our home and helped me build cold frames for transitioning these seedlings to the yard.” Eventually, she turned their entire backyard into a garden, and quickly tapped into a desire for marrying aesthetics with the production-driven farming lessons learned from family. I was very lucky to know what I wanted to do from a young age; I just didn’t know what to call it,” she says. A degree in landscape architecture from University of Illinois led her to a career with Lake Bluff based Mariani Landscape.
Now the Design Director, Sara works with a team of dedicated horticulturalists who build and maintain vegetable gardens and landscape designs across our community. Here she shares her tips and tricks for creating a successful potager.
- Choose a spot in your yard with at least six hours of sun exposure. If you’re not certain, an inexpensive light meter will let you know if you have the requisite amount.
- Build raised beds with untreated landscape timbers (an 18-inch depth is ideal). The soil warms quickly, it allows for better drainage, and is ergonomically easier to harvest.
- Beds should be no more than 4-feet wide, giving you two feet on each side for planting, weeding, and harvesting.
- Prepare beds with amended, organic soil. Having beds ready by Mother’s Day, long considered the safe time to plant tender herbs and vegetables, is ideal.
- Vertical support is key. A-frames, trellises, and french tuteurs all lend beauty and save space while allowing climbing plants like cucumbers and sweet peas to thrive.
- If rabbits love your garden as much as you do, the only true preventative measure is fencing. “Three feet high with openings no bigger than 1/2-inch,” she shares.
- Don’t forget the flowers. Edible flowers such as nasturtium, lavender, and pansies add beauty as well as culinary diversity. Sunflowers will attract finches and butterflies. Zinnias and dianthus grow beautifully in our climate, and their petals are edible as well. Soft, delicate dill reseeds freely and is pollinator friendly.
- If you are tight on space or need a low-maintenance routine, growing herbs and cherry tomatoes in pots on a sunny porch is your answer.
- And finally, enjoy. “Treat yourself to the blossoms of hope,” says Sara.
Sara and her team tackle the full spectrum of home gardening, from planning and execution to maintenance, and everything in between. For inquiries, contact Sara at [email protected].