The Kitchen garden or potager ( the French term for a Kitchen Garden), was in days gone bye more often than not, made up of geometrically laid out, ornamental beds of vegetables, herbs and flowers. These beds where surrounded by small box hedges. Fortunately some of these gardens still remain to this day, and others are being recreated.
I was lucky enough to run a culinary and garden tour in France together with Ahrend Jan van de Horst in the 1980’s. We had two coaches with 40 garden and culinary enthusiast. It started off with a problem, on the way to Paris, whilst stopping for a pause, we found that one guest was missing. On contacting the person, no mobiles in those days, we offered for them to be driven to meet us in Paris but they declined. I could write a book about that trip. It was a fairy tale but at times a nightmare. Fortunately my dear Riquette Guepin was at my side and kept me sane.
We visited Versailles where we saw the beautiful gardens, the orangery and also an exhibition in the Palace of the beautiful laid tables of the 17 century. We had a picnic in L’ Hay Le Roses garden a beautiful rose garden on the outskirts of Paris. Then on to the Loire, to the gardens of Chateau Le Villandry . I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the geometrical lay out and all the different vegetables and herbs in the gardens. It was then that I hoped on day to have my own potager.
We then went on to the garden of Monet which I just fell in love with and even danced through the garden, too the surprise of my students. On my return to Amsterdam I even painted my Serra the yellow color of Monet’s kitchen.
Then on to the beautiful English landscape gardens near Dieppe.
Here I had a mutiny on my hands, the gardeners wanted the same menu as the culinary guests, they had paid less and had a different menu, fortunately the chef was very helpful so we all sat down to a delicious meal. However I had not got enough money with me to pay. Fortunately one of my dear culinary friends helped me by paying for the 20 extra converts. And we all returned happily to Amsterdam .
These days we have less room and less money to invest in teams of gardeners, though many country gardens are being opened to the public, by garden enthusiasts who spend most of their day recreating and tending old gardens or creating new garden landscapes.
I myself have a small garden on the Herengracht in Amsterdam, which was designed as a herb garden by Janine Ten Hoorn in the 1990.
Since my retirement from My cooking school La Cuisine Francaise last year, I have the idea to make it in too a kitchen garden or as we say in France a potager.
I followed a very informative kitchen garden course last year, run by Ellen Moekhoek, it was very interesting and in depth about soil, seeds and cultivation of vegetables. I quickly realized, that it was not as easy as I thought! a kitchen garden did not just come in a few weeks. The course was given on the most expensive ground in Amsterdam, at the Zuid As. At the same time local children and residents where encouraged to join and plant vegetables, a fantastic initiative. Now that wonderful garden plot is a building plot, flattened over by bulldozers ready for building yet another office block.
This year with the help of Hanneke van de Tuinen Van Marseille I am hoping to achieve my dream. A kitchen garden on the Herengracht 314 in Amsterdam, it is just as well I don’t work full time in my La Cuisine Francaise any more.I would not have time. I am also being helped by a young girl Rosa, she is a lovely girl and so enthusiastic, she has just completed a course in permaculture, after finishing a university training in politics. Like many young people she has chosen to follow her heart, as I did and have never regretted. She has managed to change my Serra kitchen into a glass house
So my Pats Pantry kitchen is now the home of little pots, covered in plastic, my dining table is a green house and I spend time each day looking after my seedlings or should I say looking to see if they arise.. I have a fermentation box for my food waste to make medicine for the plants, and even my camper van is suffering from neglect. This year we hope to be ready on time for the open garden days 20,21, 22 June. If not we will have to plant ready made vegetables as we expect about 4.000 visitors.
I know that kitchen gardens are a big thing now and quite understand everyone’s joy at getting their hands in the earth. School gardens, gorilla gardens are now cropping up here and there, and gardens on office or derelict buildings as I saw in Brooklyn , New York in 2012 are now reaching our shores.
The sky is the limit.
Just imagine how I felt then, in the middle of New York standing on the top of a 6 story office block holding a newly laid egg in my hand, looking at rows of neatly sown seedlings sprouting on the roof top. To later be sold at the farmers market on Union square.
Let us hope our farmers markets can survive and not be encroached upon, by sellers of secondhand clothes and paraphernalia , which it what I see on the Noordemarket in Amsterdam Excuse mooi.
There are now fantastic books, television programs and courses on kitchen gardens, some even on line as is the one from my teacher Ellen Mookhoek .
My advice is, read about it, and just begin, it is very daunting when things don’t grow but oh the pleasure in eating your first radish or runner bean make it all worthwhile.
Even a small balcony can become a small food paradise!