Secrets of a Savvy Gardener

Learn how this Oklahoma City garden designer and mom created a space full of flowers, herbs, vegetables—and great ideas
Gene Bussell

Linda Vater’s own potager, or “soup garden,” as she calls it, is her favorite spot. “I love the word ‘potager,’ ” this self-taught garden designer says with a smile. (A potager is a traditional kitchen garden and is pronounced PO-tuh-zhay.) “I love the notion that no matter what, you always have something fresh to cook with. It supplies my family of four with something fresh every day, whether it’s peppers, herbs, greens, or cut flowers.” Here are some of her secrets. Use them to create your own dream garden.

Find Your Inspiration
Every garden, Linda believes, starts with a point of inspiration. For her, it was a visit to famed garden designer Rosemary Verey’s elaborate spread at Barnsley House in England. “The thing I liked most about her potager was how she created very defined areas by using boxwood hedges, and within those boxwood compartments she had little areas for growing vegetables, fruit, herbs, and cut flowers,” Linda remembers. “I wanted to translate her impressive kitchen garden to my small plot [about 30 x 30 feet] in the middle of the city.”

Your house and garden are related, and Linda believes that outdoor areas should be extensions of the home. She explains, “Because I have an asymmetrical house that has rounded, soft features, I’m using those same lines in my garden. ”

Define with Structure
To create the illusion of an outdoor room for her potager, Linda flanked it with two lattice pergolas and framed it with fencing. French doors opening onto the garden from her office blur the lines between indoors and out. Brick walkways and stone paths complete the framework and give her easy access for pruning and harvesting. Building your garden around great structure makes it a lot easier to maintain, Linda says.

Bring Order to Your Border
The centerpiece of Linda’s potager is a vegetable, herb, and cutting garden divided into four quadrants and framed by a ‘Wintergreen’ boxwood hedge. The beauty of the hedge is that it brings order to garden chaos. “If you had only all the flowering stuff,” she says, “that could look messy, but once you impose the contrast of something very structured against it, you increase the beauty of both.”

Build a Focal Point
Linda designed her boxwood hedge with a circle in the middle to create a focal point—in her case, a vertical one because she doesn’t like a garden in which everything is flat. “It’s a perfect spot for a bamboo tepee, where I can have miniature pumpkins, scarlet runner beans, or climbing nasturtiums growing up the supports. If I don’t want to grow anything in there, I can put up a scarecrow or just the bamboo tepee, and it will still look good.”

Pick a Palette
Linda likes to choose a color palette for each season. Her summer palette came from a little yellow school chair that she plopped down in her garden one day. Summer, she decided, was all about bright golds, rusts, and ambers. Not all garden color comes from plants. Structures, containers, and accessories painted to match your palette will “ante up the sophistication and the beauty by making everything look cohesive,” Linda says. 

Enjoy the Moment
This avid gardener’s best advice is also the simplest: Gardening is an adventure. “There are certain ‘aha!’ moments in gardening when you realize the obvious has escaped you,” she says. One is that pots can be moved. Got a bare spot in your border? Drop in a colorful container. Planted a pot that’s not happy? See if it perks up in different light. Whether it’s in your backyard or a basic soup garden, apply Linda’s secrets, and enjoy the adventure.

 

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