Potager 101 – Classe 2, Questions to Answer Before you Design

Feb 10, 2011 | Potager, Potager 101 | 16 comments

If you have any questions about this class feel free to leave a comment…all questions will be answered in my comment box unless you send me a private email.  I love to help any way that I can!
For today’s class you will need:
Sticks (something to stake in the ground of snow to rope off your area)
Measuring tape
Graff paper
A notebook
A bit of imagination
Here is what I am going to promise you… you don’t have to be artistic or a garden designer to fashion your own Potager.
This is a 101 Classe so we will try to keep it very simple and hopefully this spring many new, lovely Potagers will grace the American backyard.  However, I am throwing a lot out here in this post and you may want to refer back to it in the future.
Let’s assume most of you will be starting with plain, flat… yard.
The first thing you will want to do is measure.  Yes, even out in the snow if you can’t stand to wait… though you might want to.  Plant your stakes in the ground/snow tie a string around them as you create your shape then measure the entire space.  This is just a rough draft – you will want to do this again as you get closer to digging ground.  Then…


Let’s keep this very simple-
To the best of your ability, sketch out on paper what you might like your Potager to look like… you will most likely tweak this so don’t panic.  Plus, you will transfer it to graph paper later.
Some questions to ask yourself:
What will you be growing? 
 As you read the “recommended reading” list you will develop this answer because of the knowledge you will be gaining but what I want  you to do, is as best you can be mindful of space.  For example, if you are dreaming of a summer full of watermelon from your Potager you are going to need a lot of space as Watermelons are a vining, spreading plant… if you want to grow a hundred pounds of green beans… well, those can grow up towards the sky.
Many a nostalgic gardener has thought, “Oh I will grow my own pumpkins for the kids this fall!”  only to have them completely overtake house, garden and home and a manner that would frighten any Fairy Godmother.
How much space is hubby going to let you have?  
You would not believe the amount of emails I have received wondering how to get hubby on board… Why on earth husbands would FIGHT their wife wanting to learn to grow food is really beyond me.  I have some ideas on coercion … do you really want to know?
Now ask yourself…
Do you like squares, rectangles, pie shapes?
What is your budget?
We will can cover this in more depth if you think we need to but consider you will need money for the following:
Sod removal 
 You can rent a manual remover ($15ish a day), use a square, flat shovel or rent a gas powered remover ($65-95ish a day).  Sod removal – it’s a horrible job, there is no way around it.  But once it’s done, it’s done.  (We are big D.I.Y-ers but I am sure for a reasonable price a landscaping crew can remove the sod for you too – just be kind and offer them plenty of water!)
Border creators
Again, it’s personal taste.  How will you keep the shape of your beds?  1×4’s, bricks, rocks, railroad ties?  There are many options for many different budgets.  A girl savvy with a power drill can make some pretty basic raised beds or hopefully by this point hubby is on board and wants to wow you with his carpenter prowess.  I chose cobblestones for mine.  Half I went and bought and half I took from my Grandpa’s farm fields.  Be sure to ask first but spring is coming and most farmers would welcome you removing large rocks from their fields.  You can also find piles of them at the end of farmers fields too – again, ask first unless you have a black ski mask and are really brave.
Path Material
There are many options for your pathways.  The cheapest being sod.  Keep in mind this requires upkeep and you will want to own a power edger to keep everything looking trim and clean.
I am a sucker for pea gravel.  Not driveway gravel but rounded, multi colored pea gravel. It’s about $3 a bag at home depot or $35 a yard from your local landscape source.  It sounds delightful beneath your feet.
There is also a very French looking red gravel that I have seen in this area.  Oh, it looks so French, but alas red is not for me.
You will want to factor in the price of landscape fabric under anything you use (except grass of course).
Soil and Soil Amenders
I am blessed with gorgeous, old, topsoil that has been practically untouched however soil quality varies around the country.  Some will have more clay… some in new construction areas may be very poor.  Again, this is something you can buy.  Either in tedious bags from Home Depot or by the yard from your local landscape supplier.  They will even deliver it if you don’t have a truck.
Soil Ame-what?  Amenders.  Read: poop.
You can amend/boost your soil with a variety of nutrients.  Each spring I revitalize mine with manure and mushroom compost.  This spring I will be using my chicken poop!  As you become more and more “into” gardening you may want to start your own compost pile with kitchen scraps and grass clippings.  This is a great way to save money.  But really, there is nothing like manure.  Talk to a local farmer or buy it pre-baged form Home Depot.  Amending your soil DOES make a difference in Veggie size and nutritional quality.  I am not trying to overwhelm you in a 101 class but it is something you will want to learn more about.
Back to sketching things out on paper…
Once you have an idea of the size you have to work with, google “graph paper” and print some off.  I assign 1 square foot to each square on the paper and I just start tinkering around with ideas.
Now you will be able to get an aerial view of your backyard, decide how much space you really want to assign to Potager, how much room your mower will have to maneuver around your new project, if you paths will line up with any architectural features on your house (more on that later)… keep in mind your daily activity.  For example, do you want to be able to pull a wagon or wheel barrel into your Potager when you work?  Then you will want a three foot wide path.  If you are just making a tiny little herb garden off your kitchen then maybe a 24″ path will do for you.
I find that I go back and forth from the yard to the graph paper, changing, tweaking, re-measuring… before I dig my first shovel full.  I hope this doesn’t have you totally freaked out.  I am anxious to see some of your sketches (I’d show you mine that I drew for this post but my scanner kept chopping them in half)  If you would like me to include them with your without your name in my next post I would love to.  Email me at:
Our next class will be on Design and Focal Point.
all images: google images “potager layout” – except the little layout drawing – that’s the ONE that survived my crazy scanner!


  1. Mandy

    i have to tell you how excited i am! we bought our home 2 years ago and the front has been an eye sore. now it will be my potager! can you answer one, probably incredibly dumb question?, why are we removing sod?…

  2. Beth - In My World...

    This is so exciting! I have two raised beds and I am scheming to have two more for this year. Luckily, I also have soil amenables thanks to our chickens. Last year when we experienced a nice day in May I spread it in the gardens and turned it over. I repeated this in April. When I planted in May, the soil was great and yielded the best garden I ever had. I can’t wait to lay-out the plans on my graph paper!

  3. Molly @ Star Cottage

    Wooooo Hoooooo! Hooray for Potagers! Great 101 class! Your potager is so lovely and I am super jealous! I started one last year and already I want to tear it up and start over. I will send you my old layout and picks as soon as I get a chance. Hoping to make it bigger and prettier this year.

  4. Alice

    I’ve got one of those hubbies that is definately NOT on board with having a garden of any type. I’m hoping to change that one of these days. I’ve already been composting for a couple years now, but I’m not very faithful at it, so my compost bin (a metal trash can with holes) is only about half full, but it’s a start!

    Thanks for all the great information.

  5. Theanne...

    Even though my little 10×25 concrete patio cannot be turned into a potager…I am still enjoying the class!

  6. Parisienne Farmgirl

    I am sorry, I am still pretty sick so I was worried my thoughts might be all over the place.
    We are removing sod to make way for your beds and paths… I suppose for the paths you could just put down landscape fabric and lay your border pieces over it to hold it down but then you will have a bit of a bump… as for sod removal for the beds, some books say you can just turn the dirt over but I have never found that to be true… the best way to keep grass from creeping thru the dirt of your raised beds is just to get rid of it. More work now makes less work later.

    I am happy to answer any other questions. Like I said, I really feel like I was all over the place with this one.

  7. Chrissy

    I am very glad you are doing this Potager 101, I tried starting one 2 summers ago, after returning from Europe, but was not very successful at completion. I am hoping that with a group of us starting this together we will be able to encourage one another and be able to ask you the questions we have 🙂
    I am lucky my husband and I have planted a garden before, but it just looked like an “ugly” plot garden?? So I think he is willing to help me this time with th Potager.
    I am still not feeling well either, but you seem to put your thoughts together better than I am. I am so looking forward to the next class.

  8. Mrs. B.

    I’m so excited. 🙂 I’m going to try my hand at a potager this year. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Here’s the deal: I’m actually going to do 2 1/2 to 3 ft high raised beds (with wood) on my weedy brick patio right outside the back door. I’m hoping this will work! I think a brick walkway between the beds would look so sweet (and a bit french, too).

    I’ve been sketching and drawing and looking at seed catalogues and dreaming.

    If you have any thoughts about my raised bed atop bricks, write me an email (if you have time…with your three babes.) 🙂

  9. à la parisienne


    First of all, thank you for the time you are putting into these potager classes to help us. We all know that you have a very full and busy life, so these posts are very much appreciated. (The posts that “teach” take the longest to compose!)

    Before I read this post, I kindly gave my husband “les devoirs” to go measure the part of the yard we’re using. He reported- 10ft wide by 30 ft long. Tonight, he said he would draw me a template on graph paper. (Carpenters seem to be addicted to sketching on graph paper.)

    So, once I have my template I will be drawing up ideas like crazy!

    I had an idea the other day.
    What do you think about hosting a “Share your Potager” (or whatever you want to name it) post on your blog using Mr. Linky once your classes are over? Perhaps once or twice a month we can link our potager posts to your blog. This would be a great way for us to see each other’s ideas and a great way for you to answer questions that we have along the way.


  10. Christina

    I am so excited about this, we are putting a place in the country and I can’t wait to start working on my Potager this Spring! I am off to work on my sketches.

  11. Chrissy

    Hello again Angela, I just came back to suggest the same thing that Mandy just did. A linky Potager post would be a great way to share our success and questions?
    Also, I just ordered the first 2 books you suggested, hope to get them soon. In the meantime, looking through my seed catalogs and planning my space.
    Thanks again,

  12. Lisa

    I love your website. I just found it a few days ago, and am so excited to work on my potager! I have a small raised garden that I’ve been using for a few years, but you’ve really inspired me to get creative with it and hopefully expand it this year. Also, I requested the books you suggested thru our library and they just came in today–merci beaucoup!!

  13. Heather's Blog-o-rama

    right now I’m in an apartment, so I’ll have to come up with a different plan 🙂 🙂 However, this is awesome…thanks..the info is great and easy to understand 🙂 🙂 Thank you 🙂 🙂 Love and hugs from Oregon, Heather 🙂

  14. Selina

    Totally loving your potager class!! It is great. I’m afraid I am not so organised as you…I just plant as I go along, and plan in my head, and then after I plant each type of seeds I scribble it on my garden map (not graph paper either and definitely not to scale). But it is so much fun and I am sooo looking forward to picking up tips and ideas from you and the other bloggers. At the moment here in sub-tropical Australia I am planting already, and trying to decide where to dig more garden beds.
    Hope you start feeling better,

  15. Justine

    Sadly I have no room to put a potager in my yard (well the front yard is pretty open but there is a very steep hill maybe you will do a class on hilly potagers sometime) but there is hope I think I may already have a… small potager Im not sure if it would classify its a round almost wagon wheeled shape with small pie shaped beds and a circular bed in the middle right now its just flowers (well in the summer right now we have under about 3 feet of snow here in maine) but youve inspired me to dig it all out and put mostly herbs in it! I love your blog!

  16. Amanda

    I have already sketched my potager on paper. I love pea gravel too and I’ve already told my husband once the weather warms up I want a load:) I hope to keep up with you on your lessons by posting each week what I’m doing.

    Hope your feeling better.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Search Posts

Blog Categories

Archives by Date