A potager is a sort of cottage garden where the main ingredients are vegetables rather than flowers. It is a decorative vegetable patch and can be more or less disciplined according to your preference. At its most defined, it is not unlike a parterre, with vegetables growing in spaces delineated by low hedges or brick or gravel paths. Then it becomes a larger, more varied version of the formal herb garden.
The formal potager
Strictly ordered rows of vegetables can be attractive if they are well maintained, but it is not necessary to grow them like this. Build raised beds and surround them with brick paths. They may be square or rectangular, each being planted with one or two varieties to give order to the whole design.
Dwarf tomatoes can be grown alongside dwarf beans; leeks next to ornamental cabbages. Globe artichokes in the center of a bed will give height and structure; strawberries provide a decorative edging for some of the beds.
A plot can be arranged in a circular pattern divided by radial paths, and the pattern marked out by edging stones. Circles always look elegant. Their outlines can become valuable focal points and need not conflict in any way with an otherwise purely decorative garden.
Vegetables grown in rows within the divisions will give an attractive colored pattern to the design. Square or more complicated geometric shapes can be used if you have the space. Beds with straight lines can be wooden boards.
The informal potager
In a small garden, or if you have chosen an awkwardly shaped part of the plot as your potager, an informal vegetable patch will probably be a more sensible option. Here you can allow the plants to grow in a somewhat haphazard, more natural manner than in the formal plot.
Give some height to the beds with standard soft fruit bushes such as gooseberries or black and red currants, which will be easier to maintain and pick and will help give form to the area. Other vegetables can be planted in more or less organized patterns, as you prefer.
Ornamental cabbages, tall and round lettuces of as many different colors as you can find, Swiss chard, leeks and dwarf sugar snap peas can all be interplanted with herbs and standard or shrub roses for extra decorative value.
The basement potager
Basement flats often have tiny patios with steps to gardens at eye level or higher. People generally sit in the patio area because the steep, narrow steps to the garden are uninviting. such plots are good candidates for vegetable gardens. If you can push the garden out by enlarging the patio area, making the steps wider and shallower, you will lose some growing space but make the whole place feel much more open and spacious.
You can decorate the patio with large flowering shrubs in containers and set up table and chairs there, and concentrate your growing skills in the upper part of the garden. Ornamental cabbages with their round, brightly colored shapes, the feathery pale green leaves of carrots, chives with their bluey-green spikes, the tall strap shapes of leeks and soft, round spinach leaves will make contrasting patterns on the lower terrace.
Tall, stately vegetables such as cardoons can grow right at the back. Carefully planned and with the addition of some summer-flowering perennials and shrubs, this can become a pleasant place to sit, especially when the sun is on the garden and not on the patio.