Taming the Potager

Reading broadens the mind, and I’ve read too many gardening books to remain satisfied with a plain old vegetable garden.  I of course have a potager, which (from what I’ve heard) is a vegetable garden but fancier, with vegetables but designed and mixed with flowers and supposedly a nicer place to sit around in than the dirt paths and rows of beans of your common vegetable garden.  Plus it’s a French word, and here in America anything with a french name is fancier.  Case in point: baguette vs ‘long loaf of bread’… fancier… and now I rest my case with just one argument, since neither my argument nor the fanciness of my potager will likely stand up to any in depth scrutiny 🙂

hollyhock rust

A stray hollyhock seedling in front of ‘Royal Purple’ smokebush (Cotinus).  Normally the bush is cut back but this year was left unpruned in order to smoke (bloom).

Just a few thoughts on Hollyhocks(Alcea) before we go to the potager.  I was hoping a few rust-resistant plants might show up as I try to mix in a few “rust-resistant” species, but so far no luck.  Rust is not a good look and of course I’m far too lazy to spray.

hollyhock rust

I thought this might be a yellow Alcea rugosa, and possibly less rusty, but the pink tint in the flowers and all the spotting and rusty lesions says otherwise.  I should rip it out now, but…

So I’m 99% sure that starting off with me sharing my disease problems is not the path to fancy, but I’m going to try and save this.  The best thing in the potager this week are the larkspur and oxeye daisies.

larkspur and daisies

Larkspur and daisies.  Not really fancy, but maybe ‘shabby chic’, and chic is right out of Paris.

Some people might point out that Larkspur and daisies are more abandoned farm field than they are high style, but right now I love them, and I’m not even going to mention they’re actually the result of not weeding rather than any planned style initiative.

larkspur and daisies

I meant to dig the alliums and tulips, but never quite got around to it.  Fortunately the largest prickly lettuce and mugwort were weeded out a few weeks ago 🙂

The actual efforts at design are much less impressive.  Roses and clematis to climb the ‘structure’ are still two or three years from breathtaking.

rose chevy chase

I suppose this will be a patriotic design, with the bright red ‘Chevy Chase'(a 1939 rambler rose) joining the misslabeled blue clematis and white daisies.  I’m expecting ten feet or more from Chevy, he should be a strong grower but sadly lacks any fragrance.

Any real potager needs a few vegetables, and so far lettuce and cole crops are the only things looking productive since the tomatoes and squash have only just gone in.

summer cabbage

I love cabbages and all their kin.  Earlier in the year the cabbage worms attacked, but after a little picking off, the worms have stayed away or found other hosts.  Un-nibbled leaves really look much better than the usual worm-riddled foliage.

So as usual I have an excuse for being late.  Rabbits made their nest in the middle of the tulip patch.  Somehow six cottontails had to grow up before I could dig the tulips.  I couldn’t transplant the chrysanthemums until the tulips were out, and then dahlias had to go into the bed where the chrysanthemums were.  I think following chrysanthemums with a dahlia planting is called crop rotation, and all the fanciest gardeners practice crop rotation.

dahlia seedlings

Nine ‘Bishop’s Children’ dahlia seedlings are all I got out of a packet of thirty seeds.  That’s a good thing, what would I do with thirty dahlia seedlings?

Some of the other tulip plantings were followed by tomatoes, and I’ll show them as well but they need a few weeks before they and the rest of the new potager plantings begin to look nice.  In the meantime I need pear advice.  Last year a late freeze killed off nearly every flower save three, this year every flower made it.  I have dozens and dozens of little pears and I need to know if I should drag out the ladder and thin them, or if they will naturally thin themselves.  To me the answer is already pretty obvious, but of course I’d love for someone with more experience to tell me I don’t have to thin them.

thinning pears

Little pears.  I already thinned the lower branches to just a few fruits.

It doesn’t look like a few French words will fool anyone, and those are pretty much all the highlights of the potager in mid June.  With the bubble burst, I might as well take you around the rest of the even less fancy parts of the back garden.

wildflower meadow

Weeds along the berm.  Year 1 was smartweed, year 2 was some mustard, year 3 is birds foot trefoil, daisies, and grass.  I think it looks best this year and I think some rose campion seed needs to be sprinkled in as well 🙂

Weeds along the back of the property and now an overgrown snowdrop bed.  Finally after years of tinkering this bed is becoming more stable and I think (a little)less weedy.

rain garden

Snowdrop bed, aka rain garden.  The roof runoff washes down the sand path and keeps this bed a little wetter than it used to be.  The plants seem to love it.

There’s so little design and zero fancy to this side of the yard.  As the years pass it’s becoming more of a snowdrop garden and the other plantings have to take second billing, even if they do occupy the ground for about 11 months compared to the 1 month of white.  Of course I cannot explain myself on this addiction.


This year the blueberries will be protected.  I have netting, but all the fledgling birds who flock to the bushes are just too clumsy to avoid getting trapped, and I can’t untangle another body.  I’ll try some floating row cover material and hope that out of sight will save enough for pancakes at least.

Hopefully this end of the garden gets some attention this weekend.  It’s always the last job, and for as ‘finishing’ as that sounds it really only means I go right back to the start and begin it all again, this time with more weeding and less planting…

japanese iris

Even in a thicket of weeds this Japanese iris looks fancy.

Maybe on the next go around things will change.  All the weeds will go out, some thoughtful design will go in, some rough edges cleaned up?  I think not.  It’s firefly season and they love all the rough edges and I love having them light up the evening garden, and for as much as I’m tempted to weed-whack the berm or mow the meadow it’s not happening this month.  I’m sure I’ll get over it and it also wouldn’t hurt if I found something better to do 😉

Bonjour, and I hope you have a fancy week!


18 comments on “Taming the Potager

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    No fancy week here. I do like your Weedy Wallow. If I would have daisies and larkspurs as weeds I would be delighted. They are tres bien. There is a lot happening in your garden now. Enough to keep you busy for sure. That weedy berm isn’t looking too bad this year. Enjoy all your fancy.

    • bittster says:

      heh heh, thanks 🙂
      I feel like I’ve been busy but then this morning it looks like everything is falling apart again. Better to go online and complain rather than doing anything about it!
      If the rain stops I’ll weed. There, I have a plan, now I just hope it rains a little more 😉

  2. Eliza Waters says:

    I had to give up hollyhocks because of rust. I am not good with the weekly fungicide spraying that needs to start with emergence. This year I might have sprayed twice, hardly effective!
    I LOVE the berm just as it is. Wild is good and with each passing year, there is less wilderness for the wild ones. Consider it your contribution to the Homegrown National Park movement. 🙂
    I’m getting to that time of year, where the chores and insects stay permanently ahead of me, and my optimism that I have a handle on things starts to fade. It happens every year, yet every year I think might be different. Insanity, right? 😉

    • bittster says:

      Well then we are both insane, because I still think there’s a chance I’ll get a grip on things and find the time the garden needs… even though there are still some 2021 unweeded sections and I need to re-weed plenty of other spots.
      Honestly it’s just more fun to get new plants. A friend offered things I don’t need. Of course I took her up on it and will plant those before I even consider taking better care of what I have 🙂 I guess I’ll just figure on the first frost dealing with the weeds I never got to!

      • Eliza Waters says:

        “Honestly it’s just more fun to get new plants.” Ha! You got that right! I totally agree. And yes, the rain and heat have supercharged the weeds. I get to this time of year where they are starting to flower and set seed and I start to panic… one weed can turn into 1,000 really quickly! It always makes me think of Fantasia’s Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice when he chops the broom and it becomes thousands. Dum-ta-dum, da-ta-da-da-dum! 😉

      • bittster says:

        Well that pretty much sums it up! I try and try but there are some things which I can’t help let go to seed. A purple amaranthus comes up in sheets when I dig over the vegetable beds. Mulch is the only thing which saves me lol

      • Eliza Waters says:

        Yes, I can’t imagine what it’d look like if I didn’t use mulch… a veritable jungle of unhappy plants!

  3. Paddy Tobin says:

    I wonder if you left the berm to nature what plants would appear. I have done that to a small area here in the garden and marvel at what nature introduces – though, to be honest, it is all underplanted with spring bulbs. I leave it grow after the bulbs have finished and cut the by then high grass in August.

    Our vegetable patch has had Narcissus canaliculatus growing under espalier apple trees for years but, as is their nature, they produce more foliage than flower. Last year, because I couldn’t think of any suitable position in the garden, I planted 20 tall bearded iris in one of the beds and I loved the result. The Head Gardener says their planting may be extended to another bed, displacing some vegetables!

    • bittster says:

      Nature can be amazing! I believe I spend more time wandering the semi-tended weedy areas of the garden far more than I do the under-control sections. There are so many invasive weeds which appear and MUST be dealt with (I think the invasives are far worse over here than over there) but there are still enough surprises to make it all worthwhile.
      Interestingly I often here how overly-vigorous grass is a problem in your meadows, and yellow rattle is suggested, but here the grass barely holds its own. I think our hotter summers encourage warm season grasses and a prairie style, yet that’s a little too wild for me and I try to keep the meadow going with occasional summer and fall mowings.
      I’m afraid that more and more of the potager is being turned over to flowers. I have chrysanthemum seedlings which need to be planted and where better than in the old lettuce bed!

      • Paddy Tobin says:

        Yes, we grow grass well here which is why we have such a thriving dairy farming sector. We use yellow rattle in our patch of high grass so as to give the flowers a fighting chance.

  4. Those are some serious cabbages! Do I smell some sauerkraut in your future? And I would definitely try to keep the birds off the blueberries. Not everything can be for wildlife.

    • bittster says:

      No sauerkraut, but maybe piggies?
      I just noticed that the blueberries have been ripening for days, I just didn’t realize the birds were plucking them as soon as the blue showed, so I just didn’t know. Netting better go on today!

  5. LOOKING GREAT! Did you throw some wildflower seeds on the berm in the back of your property? It seems like some of the wildflowers here in the pasture and fence rows move about a bit. Some species take over others territory over time. It is strange how nature all works out while we work to control our flower beds and gardens. I hope you are doing well. Take care and thanks for sharing.

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Lonnie!
      I’ve thrown seeds onto the berm with just a few things surviving, but most of the interesting stuff has shown up on its own. The woodchucks are controlling some of what survives but I would love it if the woodchucks were out of the equation… but there are so many across the industrial park, it’s a take one out and another moves in kind of process.
      I’d put up a fence, but don’t really want to look at a fence 😉

  6. pbmgarden says:

    Your garden chic is charming and successful all around. The berm looks great and I second the rose campion. Have a great week.

  7. Cathy says:

    Very chic and romantic with the larkspur and daisies. 😃 I had also given up on hollyhocks, but acquired some seed by chance for some dark red, almost black ones… they haven’t flowered yet and no signs of rust yet….. Campions would look lovely in the wild meadow. Glad to hear you have fireflies and are not mowing. 😃

    • bittster says:

      Maybe the new spot has just what the hollyhocks need in order to keep the rust away 🙂 fingers crossed!
      In the last week or two I’ve been dying to mow but then see all the little flies and moths and fireflies flitting through the meadow and put it off. Maybe if I just do small parts here and there so things can move around it wouldn’t be too traumatic. With the heat and dry weather last week it doesn’t look nearly as fresh as it did previously!

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