Pretty up your po­tager

Adding flow­ers to the veg­gie gar­den is not as friv­o­lous as it seems, writes Alice Spenser-higgs

Business Day - Home Front - - HOMEFRONT -

WHY should veg­etable gar­dens not be as pretty as flower gar­dens? The French got it right with the po­tager, mix­ing veg­eta­bles, herbs, flow­ers and fruit in a way that speaks to the senses as much as to the stomach.

Herb doyenne Mar­garet Roberts con­curs. “A po­tager is meant to be beau­ti­ful,” she says, un­like the util­i­tar­ian veg­etable gar­den that is planted in rows.

A lively mix of veg­gies and flow­ers en­cour­ages diver­sity by at­tract­ing pol­li­na­tors, min­imises pests and dis­ease through com­pan­ion plant­ing and op­ti­mises scarce re­sources, such as wa­ter and space, to pro­duce a gar­den that is both ed­i­ble and beau­ti­ful.

Even if you don’t want to go to the ex­tent of po­tager, just sprin­kling a packet of marigold, nas­tur­tium or alyssum seed — all the easy grow­ers — among the veg­eta­bles is guar­an­teed to trans­form the veg­gie beds.

If you are feel­ing short of ideas, a visit to the spring fes­ti­val show gar­dens at Gar­den World should of­fer in­spi­ra­tion, es­pe­cially the Ital­ian Ed­i­ble Gar­den. Though the show is over, the gar­den is still be­ing main­tained. The plants are big­ger, more es­tab­lished and in full flower.

Here are some of the com­bi­na­tions that caught my eye.

In a built up bed, ar­ti­chokes have been planted as the main fea­ture. Off-set­ting the spiky, sil­ver leaves is an un­der-plant­ing of pink ver­bena “Tus­cany” which will even­tu­ally trail over the edge of the bed. The pink also con­trasts with the blue-green or­na­men­tal kale and the red leafed let­tuce that is planted in be­tween the ar­ti­chokes. Other colours that come into play are orange cal­en­dula and yel­low-green but­ter let­tuce.

The cal­en­du­las will soon be com­ing to an end, but can be re­placed by yel­low marigolds such as the Marigold “Janie”.

Be­sides adding colour, the flow­ers play the vi­tal role of at­tract­ing pol­li­na­tors, es­pe­cially bees. Cal­en­dula (Cal­en­dula offic- in­alis) is also an ex­cel­lent win­ter herb. The flow­ers have anti-fun­gal prop­er­ties and an in­fu­sion can be used as a mouth­wash, gar­gle or eye-wash for con­junc­tivi­tis.

Marigolds are val­ued for their abil­ity to re­pel ne­ma­todes that at­tack the roots of many veg­eta­bles. They are also some­thing of a trap crop for snails. The pun­gent fo­liage can be chopped up and used with other pun­gent herbs in nat­u­ral in­sec­ti­cides.

An­other eye-catch­ing com­bi­na­tion was a small mixed bed of bor­age, rocket, and ori­g­anum with neme­sia “Aro­mat­ica” at the back and “Sor­bet” and “Delft Blue” vi­o­las in the front.

I had never thought of us­ing neme­sia in the herb gar­den, but with its con­tained, up­right growth and small, ser­rated leaves, it fits right in. Like the herbs, it grows best in full sun and likes fer­tile but well drained soil.

The vi­o­las are long-last­ing spring flow­ers that are also ed­i­ble. The petals can be added to fruity desserts and sal­ads. If planted in a po­si­tion that re­ceives morn­ing sun or dap­pled sun, they will continue to look good un­til Novem­ber or early De­cem­ber, de­pend­ing on the weather. Don’t let them dry out and feed them with a liq­uid feed for flow­ers to keep up their flower power and re­move dead flow­ers.

The blue flow­er­ing Bor­ago of­fic­i­nalis is an ex­cel­lent herb for the po­tager be­cause its leaves are good com­post ac­ti­va­tors, it re­pels tomato horn­worm and is a good com­pan­ion plant with beans, to­ma­toes, squash and straw­ber­ries. The flow­ers are a rich source of food for but­ter­flies and bees.

The third com­bi­na­tion was the plant­ing of deep blue Lo­belia “Cu­ra­cao” around a pot of co­rian­der; a per­fect foil for the ter­ra­cotta pot. “Cu­ra­cao” is taller and more vig­or­ous than other bed­ding lo­belia. It grows into a well mounded plant, 15cm to 25cm high, and is heat tol­er­ant. Be­sides the deep true blue, it is avail­able in dark pur­ple, blue with white eye and light blue.

Even when there is no gar­den space, fill­ing a con­tainer with a mix of herbs, flow­ers and veg­gies cre­ates an ed­i­ble fea­ture.

This re­turn to an old gar­den prac­tice can be made up-mar­ket with beau­ti­ful pots or kept sim­ple with gravel paths. And it can be any size, ei­ther a small sec­tion within a large gar­den or an en­tire 4m by 4m town­house gar­den.

Un­usual com­bi­na­tion: Globe ar­ti­chokes and other gourmet veg­eta­bles with ver­bena ‘Tus­cany’.

Neme­sia and vi­o­las add colour to this mixed herb bed of bor­age, ori­g­anum and rocket.

Lo­belia ‘Cu­ra­cao’ per­fectly com­ple­ments the ter­ra­cotta pot and paving.

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