A potager garden is a place to grow food, skills, and beauty. You can make one just about anywhere, in a lot as small as a few hundred square feet. However, when you spend a little time carefully considering your location and planning your design, your job as a gardener becomes a whole lot easier.
I have no idea what your land looks like or how much space you have to work with. So, I can’t give you specific recommendations on the best location for your garden. However, these are the considerations I prioritize in my garden planning.
Most homes have underground power, cable, other lines, or plumbing features (well, septic tank, etc.) that need to be factored into garden planning. Additionally, many properties have zones of easement (e.g. sidewalks or meter reading access) that can impact your choice about where to situate your garden.
Some communities or home owners associations have regulations that might dictate the location of your garden. Check with the appropriate parties to identify any of these regulatory obstacles.
Potential pest problems are another kind of obstacle to consider. Planning your garden in an existing deer path, near heavy squirrel activity, or where household pets tend to potty will necessitate extra measures to secure your garden. Choosing less traveled areas to locate your garden gives you a better starting point to make pest prevention easier.
Don’t forget those potentially pest-like neighbors too. If you happen to live near to someone who might take umbrage or derail your gardening efforts, try to plan around them to keep the peace.
For me, sunlight is the one resource I can’t reasonably or sustainably create in a vegetable garden. The sun is 93,000,000 miles away from us. By the time its rays reach us, it has already pierced through the darkest, deepest space.
It bridges that distance in about 8 minutes and 20 seconds, soaring toward us constantly, at the speed of light. Even on cloudy days, though filtered, its presence can be felt. That’s some incredibly powerful stuff!
Sunlight is not only a heat and light source, but also a food source for plants. Plants are designed to absorb the sun’s energy and convert it into sugars to feed themselves and the fungi living in the soil.
You really need full sun to get good food production in your potager garden. There are some edible plants that grow in partial shade. But you aren’t likely to be able to grow large amounts of vegetables that way. (You can grow other food sources like mushrooms, but we’ll get to that later in the series).
Don’t just guess whether your site has enough sun. Bathe in the sunlight of your potential garden locations. Do this as if you are a plant, eating up those rays, to make sugars to send to your roots.
Feel the sun at first light, high noon, late afternoon. Lay down on the ground, at the level of a plant to fully experience it.
Does the sun feel strong in the morning? Is it limited at certain times of the day by your house, a fence, a tree, a hedge, your parked car? Does it become scorching mid-day even when it’s chilly out? Try different locations and note differences.
Try to imagine which plot plants will be best for your plants.
The angle of the sun is also very different from summer to winter and in between. If you aren’t sure what your sun and shade patterns are like during different seasons of the year, then you may also want to use some online tools to make sure you’ll have full sun year round.
– Online Sun/Shade Planning Tool
I most recently used Sunearthtools.com. You enter your address and choose “Sun Position” from the menu. Then, alternate between the shade path and sun rays mode. Update the dates to see what your sun and shade patterns will look like at various times of the year.
If you have large trees, sheds, fences, or other obstacles in your landscape, move the center yellow bubble on top of those obstacles. That will allow you to see the shade profile for those objects relative to locations you are considering for your garden.
When you have a good idea of your sun and shade patterns, then ask yourself this. Will my future plants thrive in the sunlight of this location?
Once you have narrowed down your some ideal garden locations based on your availability of sunlight, the next consideration is wind. Wind can severely stunt and slow plant growth. Strong winds can even pull young transplanted seedlings from the ground before they have a chance to anchor into the soil.
There are things you can do to mitigate wind, such as put up a wall or plant a shrub windbreak. However, if your wall or windbreak would then shade your garden, that’s not going to work.
Choosing a location that is already protected from wind is ideal. Alternatively, choosing a location that allows for planting or erecting a wind break without obstructing sun can also work well.
Every property has microclimates. Slopes, timing of sun, hardscapes, water surfaces, and more all change the climate near to the surface of the soil.
Sometimes microclimates are beneficial. For example, I grow my rosemary bed on the south side of my house, close to our gravel driveway. This helps keep the rosemary warmer in winter so I don’t get so much damage during our cold weather.
I wouldn’t want to grow lettuce there though. Since it can be as much as 15 degrees warmer on a hot spring day, it might make my lettuce bolt.
In general, for a vegetable garden, you want to avoid things like frost pockets. Try to take advantage or morning sun. Some shade in late afternoon usually isn’t an issue if you’ve already had 6-8 hours of full sun.
Save hot spots for your Mediterranean plants. Choose cooler, frost-free locations, if you have lots of ups and downs in your weather in spring and summer.
5. Access to Water
For ideal growth rates, plants need soil that is consistently moist. Growing in compost and using mulch will minimize the need for watering. However, there will still be times such as when planting seeds or extended droughts when watering is necessary.
Choosing a garden location with access to water will make your job easier. This doesn’t necessarily need to be from a house hose.
If you have structures with roofs and gutters on your property, you can harvest rain water. If you have a spring, that also makes a potential source of water.
If you have or plan to build a pond, siting your garden down hill from your pond allows for gravity fed water systems. If you have enough room, and won’t shade your garden beds, you could even consider a roof over your compost area to harvest rain water.
Planning for water collection or access will make gardening much less work in the long-term.
“Good drainage” is a term we use often in vegetable gardening. It essentially means water doesn’t pool and stagnate. It also means water doesn’t run through like a faucet and wash away soil.
– Too Flat
Completely flat locations are often zones for water pooling in extreme rain. However, you can use techniques like creating mounded or raised beds to help promote better flow on flat surfaces.
– Too Steep
Overly steeped slopes move water too quickly and often erode soils. In that case, you need to create terraced beds to help catch water and prevent erosion.
– Too Low
Bottom land, such as the low point between other slopes, is often good to use in extremely dry climates. However, the risk is that big storms will over-saturate that area and create boggy, conditions. If I have a choice, I prefer to build a garden a bit upslope from the bottom land.
– Just Right
For me, the ideal garden location is on a slight slope. That way I can use my garden paths and gravity to move excess water through the garden and harvest it when and were I need it.
7. Proximity to the Kitchen
The closer you can get your potager to your kitchen, the easier it will be to harvest vegetables when you need them. If your potager starts right out the door nearest to your kitchen, then you can dash out when you need to and collect herbs, fresh cut lettuce, ripe tomatoes, and more.
8. Soil Quality
I put soil quality low on my list because I know I can rapidly improve soil using compost. However, if you have a location which meets all the criteria above and already has some good, loamy top soil, then you are in luck!
If you have toxic soil, that would be a factor to consider. There are things you can do like building raised keyhole beds, even over toxic soil. But that takes more work.
To the extent possible a potager garden should also be integrated into your landscape to enhance the beauty of your home. If you can locate it near to some beautiful flowering trees, against a backdrop of mature evergreens, or where you have other existing landscape features, that can enhance your experience while gardening.
If you have to start it in the middle of what is currently a boring lawn, that works too. But you’ll probably want to do some things to soften the edges later, like maybe add some pollinator plots all around.
You can always create beauty as you go. But, integrating your garden into your existing landscape can get you there faster.
The Simplestead Potager
The location I chose for starting the Simplestead potager garden currently has a view of our parking area. It’s a bit more sloped than is ideal. But, the sun is perfect. Our house blocks much of the wind.
We have a house hose for watering. We also have rain barrels on the house gutters that can be in this garden.
There’s a peach trees growing between the cars and the garden. That can form the start of a plant hedge to help integrate the garden into the landscape and hide our vehicles.
Deer graze nearby. However, it’s far enough out of their normal path that I should still be able to keep them out of the garden. I used to keep Pekin ducks in that area, so I already have a 40 inch fence around the space.
The fence is just made of chicken wire and has large gaps at the bottom. I can use it to start, but I’ll need to make some improvements for it to be useful for pest prevention.
Also, the gate is at the farthest end from our house door. So, I may want to move the gate to save some steps between the kitchen and access to the garden.
Homework Assignment No. 2
Consider the factors explained above. Spend some time studying your landscape. Determine a suitable location to start your potager. Make sure to include a little extra room for some flowers and herbs, a place to sit, and your compost pile.
Then, mark off that area using posts, chairs, buckets, or whatever you have available. Visit the site of your future garden several times a day. Start to imagine how your garden will look there when it is mature.
When you are sure the location you’ve chosen is the right home for your new homestead potager, then you’ll be ready to move on to the next simple step in making a potager garden.
The Perfect Place for Your Potager
Very few of us will have the perfect place for our potager. Most of us will have to make the best choice possible given the conditions we have to work with. Once you have made a careful, conscientious choice though, then know in your mind and your heart that you can make that place absolutely perfect for your needs.