Gardening for the Kitchen

In the book Designing the New Kitchen Garden: An American Potager Handbook, Jennifer Bartley puts forward an interesting hypothesis. After detailing some absolutely beautiful large-scale potager gardens on French estates, she compares these ornamental vegetable gardens, which were the fashion in France, to the British tradition of having vast lawns in front of the manor, and relegating the food garden to an out-of-the-way place out back.

Whether or not you enjoy French cuisine, I think it is safe to say that the French are passionate about food. And no matter what your opinions are on British cooking, there are few who would argue that they approach it as lovingly as the French. In fact, there are many who would argue that French food is some of the best in the world, while British fare is bland and boring.

Jennifer Bartley's interesting theory is that the contrast in the food of these two cultures is directly related to their placement of food gardens. While the French made their gardens ever more pleasant places to be, and joined them seamlessly with other ornamental gardens, the British were moving their gardens further out of sight and, most probably, out of mind. Because their food gardens were rarely viewed, their food became ever more uninteresting and uninspiring.

The kitchen gardens at Villandry, France. Photo by Manfred Heyde.

Of course, it may have been the cuisine that affected the landscaping, rather than the landscaping which affected the cuisine, but it is an interesting idea nonetheless. When designing your own kitchen garden, it might be a good idea to put it in a place where you will see it often, either between the garage or street and the door, so you can walk through it often, or overlooked by a living-room window. Constant viewing of your garden not only means it will be better maintained, but it also increases the chances that your delicious produce will become a part of dinner. And the more your garden becomes dinner, the better your dinner will be.

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