Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Kitchen Garden: Historical Examples

I thought this week I would focus on the kitchen garden, which can be as simple as potted herbs and vegetables outside the kitchen door or on a patio to a potager, which is a French term for an ornamental vegetable or kitchen garden. Today I want to focus on the examples of historical kitchen gardens.

Martha Washington helped was known for walking among the rows of her kitchen garden to check the progress of the plants and trees. She was responsible for the planning and care of the garden. On the website for George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate there is a description of the restored kitchen garden:

"Much of the produce that appeared on the Washingtons' table was raised in this brick-walled, sunny spot located directly behind the stables and their unfailing supply of manure. Today rows of asparagus, beets, beans, spinach, and peas grow in beds edged with low-growing herbs. Apple and pear trees pruned to form waist-high, stout fences line the paths between beds of artichokes, onions, and lettuce. The garden is a wonderful example of a formal English kitchen garden."

Reading this description you can picture the garden as beautiful while being functional. The Read House in Delaware has a kitchen garden that was built in the late 1800's. It's been restored and is described as:

" garden with alees of pear trees and trellised grapes set by formal boxwood hedges."

The boxwood would be solely ornamental but act as a edging to the garden. Many kitchen gardens are edged by herbs, which would be pretty, fragrant and useful. Obviously the addition of grapes and fruit trees would call for a much larger kitchen garden.

These two gardens belonged to people who were well off, and had staff to assist them with their gardens, and budgets that would allow for trees and perennials to edge their potagers. Some situations called for much small kitchen gardens. I found it interesting that long ago pubs and taverns often had their own kitchen gardens to grow herbs and vegetables too.

During summer vacations my family and I have often stopped by forts such as Colonial Michilimackinac in Michigan, which is a restored fort and trading village. There was usually a large garden, but there were also small gardens behind some of the residents' homes. They were small, fenced in, and often included sunflowers, herbs and vegetables. The wife of an officer probably tended the small garden with limited access to seeds or plants.

What type of kitchen garden could you grow? As yourself the following questions:

1. How much room do I have for a garden?
2. What tools would I need?
3. What is my budget?
4. What would I like to grow?
5. If I leave on vacation could someone water the garden?
6. Would I care for the garden alone or have help?

These are the basic questions to ask yourself. Once you've answered these then you an go on to the actual details. In the next blog post I'll go into more on choosing what to grow.

On OFL we have a nice article on a kitchen garden:

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