I am very interested in plants which could be planted for aesthetic value alone but which have the added benefit of being utilitarian in the kitchen as well.
The "official" definition of a potager is plants which are used in the kitchen - "for the pot" - but are planted in an ornimental or aesthetically pleasing fasion. I really do more of a cottge garden style, mixing:
Veggies disguised as ornimentals
Herbs, Useful (edible or theraputic)
Herbs, Historical (ones I wouldn't actually subject my family to using - such as digitalis)
Other plants I can't resist
I'd be interested in knowing what you like to use in a potager, or cottage garden type plants with uses beyond ornimentation.
Here are some of my favorites:
Strawberries make a great edging or border plant. I also use them as a "living mulch" underplanting in my iris beds. This year I tried them alternating with Dianthus (mixed multi-colour) and they look terrific. The strawberries offer a rather hardey (drought resistant) and highly textured foliage, white anemone-like blossoms, and, of course, fruit. They are also eager to propogate, sending out al the runners you could want. (I am trying setting excess "runner-babies" directly in to sunken pots, to make them easier to give away.)
(Anyone got a suggestion for an edible flower or otehr plants to replace the dianthus with? I had chosen dianthus because the red-and-white flowers complimented the strawberreis adn because they are perennials, which I greatly prefer over annuals. Dianthus, while technically an historical medicinal, is not as utilitarian a plant as I would like to use near the kitchen.)
Purple Podded Pole Beans
I got a packet from the Vermont Bean Seed COmpany years ago and just keep saving a handful of the fattest seeds each fall for next year's planting. Some years, they self-seed! (That's here in Southern Maryland, ZOne 7. It doesn't happen for my Mum, up in New Hampshire where they have harsher winters.)
The flowers are pretty and the purple bean pods are also ornimental. How can you not love a bean that turns form blend-in-amongst-the-stems green to here-I-am! purple just when it reaches the perfect stage for harvesting? Clematises for the cottatge garden, PPP's for the potager - at least until someone shows me a recipe for celmatis besides its uses as an astringent and antiseptic (since Roman times).
Climbing Spinach (also called Malabar Spinach)
Available in plain green or with purple or red stems. A lush-looking annual vine. (Anyone know whether it's a perennial in the tropics?) Here in Zone 7 it will flower and set seed. (Note - plant seeds the very next year if you save them, and plant all in any packets you buy; they don't hold over for future years very well.)
The young leaves are nice enough but the older leaves are a bit tough. Fine whizzed thorough the food proccessor for making sag (Indian spinach base in which veggies or meat is simmered). Spinach puree is also good as an ingredent in a lasagna layer or to bulk up an overly strong pesto.
This is the most ornimental climbing cuke I have found - so far... But they are not the most productive variety. I like cukes because they will grow up a 15' trellis and are large enough that they are worth getting up a ladder to crop them. You can even reach up with a split-end stick and nip the vine at the base of a fruit to drop it to the ground if you don't want to bother with a ladder or use a pruning hook. Just be sure to set something on the ground for the cukes to fall on, or be ready to use and that bruise quickly.
Pretty tough, and drought-resistant once established. reasonably heavy cropping fruit, much less suseptable to insect damage than grape vines. Good for both Northern and Southern gardens. Use in place of wistera - which is only at its peak for a short season anyhow.
Also called sunchokes, these are hardy native perennial sunflowers. While not as ornimental as big-flowering "seed sunflowers," these are a great addition to the potager. They are fine for the back row. Bound their bed, as you would a bed of mint or horse radish, or they may psread more than you want. The roots are a fine veggie, with a good flavor. Not as heavy a cropper as potatoes, but a whole lot prettier. Will tolerate poor soils and drought farily well, but rewards rich soil and moderate wartering most gratifyingly.
The humble carrot has beautiflly feathery leaves. The wild carrot, or Queen Anne's Lace, is also an edible of venerable tradition, but, frankly, I can't recommend it functionally, but do grow it as an historical herb; that excuse is valid for a remarkable range of ornimentals, but is more appropriate to the cottage garden than the more functional potager.
There's such a range available now! I plant a dozen different varieties. The traditional Large-Leaved Dark Green Italian is the most functional basil, with very hearty plants prodicing a large volume of full-flavored leaves, perfect for use as an accenting herb in salads, or as a leafy vegitable in stir-frys (maybe mix half-and-half with spinach, chard, or something with a more mild flavor), and, of course, for canning pesto.
I recommend Lemon Basil as the single finest of the flavored basils, and Black Opal as the heartiest of the more ornimental purple basils, althought Purple Ruffles comes close.
Note that the purples and other ornimentals are perfectly fine for the kitchen, and respond well to heavy cropping (nip off the end, right above the leave buds at the leaf stem bases, forcing it to branch at every joint), but the colors have little impact on the flavor. Crop (and use) all older leaves before they begin to fade.
These make great "fillers" or ground covers in even the most formal of parterres. There are some terrific reds and purples with quite extravagant leaf forms. Nip out the center when harvesting, leaving the root and base leaves to re-grow. Lettuces are fine in full sun with enough water, and suprisingly shade tolerant (but not as hearty) if not over-watered.
No, not those horrid things they market as ornimental cabbages! I mean minis, reds, and purples. Am I the only one who thinks a big, full, tight cabbage is as fine a sight as any rose?
Roses (see Cabbages, above)
You must make up a batch of rose jelly or some such if you want to justify it in a potager. Otherwise you are a cottatge gardner - which is not such a bad thing, after all!
Yes, you can use this in cooking, just as any regular sage. I have plain old green sage from three different sources - and each blooms a different color! So, just because you have a plant is no reason not to swap fora potentially different strain.
Red is especially fine as a "middle row" foliage plant - and I am an especially big fan of perennial edibles. Will take full sun with a bit of watering, but will also tolerate partial shade well. Think of it as the temperate "Elephants' Ears Plant" - but tasty as well!
You may find the green varieties easier to grow. Growing conditions seem (to my experience) to affect flavor more than color, and color by itslef seems less a factor than particular variety.
Remember, tehy produce a lot and need a commensurately heavy feeding regime.
High-as-you-can-reach tall, elegant feathery perfusion, I don't know why some enterprising nursery doesn't just market this for its pruely ornimental qualities! I grow fountains of asperagus flanking my gourd arbor. And talk about tasty! But do leave them alone a year or two until they settle in. After, they will produce bountiful sprouts.
Like rhubarb, asperagus need to be fed as richly as they produce, cropped or no.
There are some hansome kales out htere, especially the curly sorts.
Like kale, a tough, dependable crop for many, and liekwise with substantial ornimental value, espeically in the red varieties. (I don't find the other colors offered to be as hansom as the red.) If you crop regularly, you can keep it from bolting for several seasons.
I think all eggplant have ornimental value, but most especially prefer the striped Japanese vartieties. But, we have fleabeetles and otter pests which preclude growing eggplants in the open, and I just don't like growing under row-cover cloth. Sigh...
I like oregano as much for its butterfly-attracting qualities as for use as an herb
Grow enough for you and enough for the caterpillars! The mourning cloak swallowtails grown on the parsley are among my favorite "flying flowers." Anyone know a good resource for ID-ing butterflies, matching them to their caterpillars, and listing the favored foods of adult and caterpillar stages?
This isn't a very utilitarian plant, but it is SUCH a "butterfly magnet" that I recommend it anyhow. For those not familiar with this medicinal herb, it's a relative of Joe Pye, but shorter, more compact, and white, rahter than pruple. (Joe Pye will grow a dozen foot tall, and is a terrific back-row plant if you've room for it, but really isn't justified in a pure potager. OK, now someone send me a recipe and prove me wrong - please!)
Yes, this cactus in native to Maryland! Um, I have no idea how closely our native variety is related to what folk Out West would call a "real prickly pear," but we have a cactus suitable for the potager. It's a sprawly thing, which drops pads and propagates well in full sun where not too damp and where it isn't out-competed by outer plants. The yellow flowers are edible (buy why bother?) and the pad are also edible and can be split open and used as natural self-adhesive bandages (um, maybe after removing those very irritating prickles!). The fruit isn't bad tasting, and has enough pectin to help a mixed jam set up well.
And yes, it's as drought-resistant as you'd expect a cactus to be.
Can anyone recommend edible flowers beside nasturtiums that provide enough blossoms with enough flavor that they "earn their keep" in a potager? I find roses and violets and wisteria and such are insipid and, while a delight as ornientals and pretty enough on top of a desert, aren't really utilitarian.
OK, that's a start. What are your potager favorites - and why?
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