Design Like a Pro: Strong Bones

Thoughtful design makes this formal vegetable garden elegant and productive.

By Ken Druse


Narrow beds line the inside of the stained fence, and foot-tall espaliered apple trees edge these. This time, the inspiration came from the enormous potager at the Chateau de Villandry in France. “I bought the trees, cut them down, and when they branched, chose two shoots to tie to horizontal wires running left and right,” Filippone explains. She also purchased taller espaliered apple trees grafted with several varieties to grow up against the fence. Square beds form the main planting areas. “There’s freedom and flexibility on what to plant within a bed when the outer edges are sharp and clean,” she says. All of the beds are edged with boxwood, one instance when Filippone veered from historical convention. Most “potager-style” vegetable and herb gardens feature so-called English box, Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’—a little-leaf shrub that is prone to disease. Instead, she chose B. sinicavar. insularis ‘Justin Brouwers’, a naturally small and slow-growing selection.

As for the vegetable beds, Filippone applies compost to the surface of the soil every year, so as not to disturb buried irrigation or bring up weed seeds. Except for the compost, “I don’t fertilize,” she adds. “I use the right amount of water, I prune, and I use compost and compost tea as a soil drench.” She mulches with chopped leaves.

As for what to grow in the garden, Filippone has three criteria for selecting vegetable plants. First, will her daughters Isabella and Tessa, age 9, eat the results? The girls have definite opinions on what things are good to eat and fun to pick. Second, each year she tries cultivars that are new or fun. A yellow-flowered ornamental okra was an inedible hit of the last season, and ‘Moon and Stars’ watermelon is an annual staple. Third, she selects cultivars that contribute aesthetically. “I think of ways to create patterns, contrast, tall/short, light green, dark green,” Filippone explains. “There’s impact from mass and color.” Oh and yes, they all get eaten, as well.