Photo: Steven Gunther
If you want to get the most out of your garden with a soupçon of style, consider copying the French. That's what Linda and Steven Brombal did at their home in Newport Beach, California, and the whole family is delighted with the results. Their kitchen garden, inspired by the classic French potager, feeds the family and provides an outdoor room that looks très joli.
The Brombals chose this type of garden because they wanted to experiment with growing vegetables and herbs at their Provençal-style tract home. Since this space would also be their primary outdoor-living area, they planned out a yard that would be attractive and easy to maintain.
As in a classic potager, the Brombals' crops grow in small rectangular, square, and circular beds separated by walkways. The little plots and generous paths make weeding, watering, harvesting, and other chores accessible. And the geometric patterns add order to the garden.
Early in the season, when crops are young and a lot of bare earth is still visible, the layout and brickwork become the focal points of the garden. When the growing season is going strong and plants are lush and full, the potager's arrangement keeps the herbs' and vegetables' growth in check, with charming spillover onto the pathways. "Either way," Linda says, "it's pretty."
Crops for freshness and flavor
In their garden, the Brombals have had great luck with different kinds of lettuce, turning 11-year-old daughter Sydney, who didn't eat salads before, into a greens lover.
Linda didn't alter her salad-dressing recipe ― it's still olive oil, champagne vinegar, and freshly grated Parmesan."But now the chives or scallions I add are right out of the garden," she says of the dressing she pours over just-picked lettuce.
"And fresh greens taste absolutely amazing," she says, adding that now "Sydney requests salads and loves to harvest the lettuce."
The Brombals have also grown artichokes, arugula, chard, and lots of herbs, including basil, chives, and lemon verbena.
There are also some permanent plants in the beds ― mostly aromatics like lavender and salvia. Linda has always used herbs in her cooking, but now that they're growing right outside her kitchen door, she uses them more spontaneously.
"If I want to add rosemary to roast potatoes, sage to roast chicken, or arugula to the salad, or sprinkle basil on sliced tomatoes, it's right there," she says. "No need to drive to the supermarket."
Having plenty of parsley and opal basil to garnish plates and fragrant herbs like lavender and lemon verbena to create casual centerpieces is nice too, she adds. "There's always something in the garden I can use to make meals a little special."
No wonder the Brombals don't have a problem getting Sydney and 12-year-old son Morgan to settle down for family dinners.
When the family moves a meal outdoors, dining together gets even easier ― and cozier. "We light the fireplace and bring out candles," Linda explains.
That creates an atmosphere so mellow that everyone slows down and enjoys the food and each other's company more, she says. "In the garden, even an ordinary meal is a special occasion."