Rosemary Verey’s potager in her garden at Barnsley played a significant part in veg gardening’s rise from the backwaters to the gardening limelight. Here she shows how to keep ahead for the busiest time of year
Since I made the potager at Barnsley vegetable gardening has always been firmly in the forefront of my plans for the garden and enjoyment of it. I decided to make a formally patterned potager because not only is it very economical on space, but I think the orderly design adds to the whole atmosphere of productivity that is the best thing in a kitchen garden.
This year’s weather conditions have been perfect for growing plenty of produce and it all fits in with our present day wish to have fresh vegetables picked from the garden and put straight into the pot. The main bonuses have been enough frosts in winter and early spring to put paid to some of the bugs, but allow the soil a chance to warm up slowly thus creating the best conditions for preparing seed beds; and plenty of rain alternating with (some) sunny days.
This goes on throughout they year but these are the weeks that the potager seems to offer a steady array of crops to harvest and that should be the aim of any veg patch large or small. I think it helps that the area is divided into regular but quite small blocks whose succession of plants can be organized individually and yet fit in with the whole picture.
The pattern of beds also makes it easier to plan the groups of plants in a decorative manner. With some, for instance lettuce, it is easy to do with alternating rows of greens and reddish-purple. But by mixing in rows of slower-growing winter veg such as cauliflowers, or contrasting tall, thin onions, the tapestry look takes on ever more variety.
I try and think of my vegetables as garden plants to be arranged with thought, as you would do in a border. A good example is how much difference is made to the runner beans climbing up bamboo canes by simple but neat squares of golden box enclosing each group.
Infact lots of supports for climbing or trailing plants are a great asset. Vegetables gardens, however well planned, can look a bit flat and so we try and break this up. I keep the support materials simple – bamboo canes, hazel or other woods are ideal. One of my favourite effects is a combination of nasturtiums and sweet peas mixing together.
This time of year also shows you the really quick growers that are ideal for filling spaces – all the salads, radishes, spinach, parsley and many gourds for instance. Success comes from balancing these with the ones that need longer planning, Last but not least, grow what you like. There’s no point in struggling with celery or chicory if no one is going to eat it. Plant instead another row of those delicious, decorative broad beans that are just about to be ready now.