A traditional potager or kitchen garden is both aesthetically appealing and highly functional, serving as a cook's convenient source of herbs, vegetables and possibly fruit and flowers. With modern living, opportunities for a spacious kitchen garden plot might be diminished, but the possibilities for a useful, attractive container garden are many.
The Westin Ottawa's Executive Chef Kenton Leier has ready access to a lovely rooftop garden that is purposefully planted to suit the needs of his busy kitchen. "We have about 20 large concrete containers forming the perimeter of our sixth- floor patio outside our health club. We started this garden three years ago and have expanded it every year. I love sending my cooks up in the morning to clip some herbs or harvest peppers and tomatoes; the guests in the health club enjoy watching them gathering the day's ingredients."
Because of the rooftop's full-day sunlight, Kenton knew that tomatoes would likely grow well and his hunch was correct. "We grow a lot of cherry tomatoes as those plants have a terrific yield - we have Romas and Beefsteaks as well. In terms of other vegetables, lettuces, kale and peppers were very successful, although this year we'll likely plant fewer jalapenos as we had more than we needed. We also experimented with Brussel sprouts last year but they didn't grow very well; they're likely not suited to container gardening."
Kenton agrees that having an abundance of fresh herbs close at hand is one of the best reasons for having a kitchen garden. "We plant about 20 different varieties of herbs, all of which find their way into our dishes. We enjoy working with several varieties of basil and thyme as well as chives, cilantro, rosemary and more."
This year, Kenton says he'd like to see more lettuces in his rooftop garden. "I love going up to the patio every day to check on things and see how all the plants are growing. Working in a garden is so serene, and of course we have an incredible view from up there."
Chef Kenton Leier's top five tips for the novice kitchen gardener:
1. Start small; it can be more work than you realize.
2. Focus on four or five things and grow them well.
3. Think about how you like to cook - plant things you are going to use.
4. Companion plantings can increase your success.
5. Talk to local experts at the farmers' markets for advice.