Life outside the potager: aging naturally

Potager of the Chateau de Villandry.
This is a vegetable garden! The potager of the Chateau de Villandry.
Photo: Fab5669, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If I were a vegetable I would hate to live in a potager garden. No chance of aging naturally there. I might look pretty but my life would be regimented—and short. Let me grow old in a vege garden like Richard’s. I don’t mind if you put me in a soup: that’s the purpose of my life.

A potager is a vegetable garden designed to look pretty. Formality and uniformity dominate: form over function. I expect the Chateau de Villandry’s garden does produce food, but surely much is wasted. The moment a crop stops looking pretty, it must be ripped out. A potager garden in perfect condition is like a regimented school for young plants. Penalties for bad deportment and no place for seniors.

What a home vege garden looks like

By contrast, here’s a picture of Richard’s vege garden in late spring, below. Pears, apples, corn, potatoes, broccoli, parsnips, silver beet, runner beans and black currants are all at different stages of development. This is multi-generational family of plants aging naturally, complete with an eco-graveyard. You can’t see the compost heap, but it’s a beauty! On the right is a bag of coffee bean husks and a heap of green refuse destined for the compost. (The photo shows less than half the complete garden, by the way.)

Richard’s vege garden in spring, crammed full of a variety of fruit and vegetables.

Here’s how my life would begin in Richard’s vege garden. Comforted and fed by an eiderdown of pea straw and protected by four sticks from cats, dogs and blackbirds, I can’t be frozen or smothered or scratched or pecked: I’m safe.

Photo of young spinach plant growing in pea-straw
Baby spinach under a cosy pea-straw duvet, protected by four stick-figures.

A home vege garden has its own messy beauty

The beauty of a domestic vege garden is intermittent and evanescent. Like cherry blossoms. Like humans, pretty much.

Photo of lush scarlet runner beans in flower
Glorious in the spring of life, like anyone young: scarlet runner beans looking lush and pretty.

Now in autumn the runner bean plants look scruffy; they produced buckets of beans during the summer. This year’s tomato plants are brown and crumbling; they produced wheelbarrow loads of tomatoes over the summer.

Photo of very
Tomato plants in autumn: a few fruit linger on, some red and yellow but mostly green. All edible.

Silver beet ages in a different manner. Old plants get a thick solid stalk (like me) and some of the leaves get a dusting of silver (like me). Those leaves get thrown to the chooks (not like me, yet). Nevertheless, well into old age, these old plants can provide a tasty meal.

Photo of big silver beet plants, still thriving in old age.
Mature silver beet, still green and growing in old age.

Unpretty and productive: that’s us oldies

Photo of fruit and tomatoes with scarred skin and nsect holesi
Not pretty but super-tasty: the almost-organic products of an old-fashioned home vege garden.

Perfectly groomed potager gardens are elegant, like a team of cloned young influencers demonstrating how to apply eye makeup. But I’ve got a hunch that the majority of potager gardens eventually relapse into old fashioned vege gardens. They start aging naturally.

Is this true of humans too? Do we spend our teens and twenties obsessing over how we look? Do we gradually lose interest in looking gorgeous and indistinguishable from our peers? Do we slowly lapse into aging naturally as we grow older?

Let’s say that’s true, just to sustain the metaphor. By now you completely understand why, if I were a vegetable, I would rather grow in Richard’s garden than in a glamorous potager in the grounds of a stately castle.

25 thoughts on “Life outside the potager: aging naturally

  1. I enjoyed your extended metaphor. I have never seen silver beet plants. They’re gorgeous!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Really never seen silver beet plants? They grow almost anywhere and are wonderfully handsome and vigorous.

  2. Fruit and veg with a few bruises, bumps, and imperfections still taste just as good!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Often even better because they haven’t been over-medicated 🙂

  3. annbarrienz says:

    This is a terrific blog, Rachel. I’ve just referred it to two people: one older person with a similar philosophy to your’s & Richards; and one younger person who has let his vege garden lapse and needs encouragement. Ann

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Wow, what a response: so this is a multi-functional blog post. Lovely to hear from you, Ann. Richard is my brother-in-law and a family treasure.

  4. I feel compelled to let Priscilla know that, here is North America, we call silver beet Swiss Chard and it’s as ubiquitous here as it is in NZ.

    I loved this extended metaphor as well – what a delight you offer in seeing things through different lenses.


    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Aha, so you have the plant but not the name. So glad you like the metaphor, Lorna: it emerged … organically: I started with a stroll around the garden and a few photos.

  5. iglengel says:

    Loved the post. Took me back to the days where my father-in-law planted his side of the yard and we planted the other half. Strawberries, corn on the cob, potatoes, tomatoes, and such. We used to get such a kick out of how great his fruit and vegetables looked come harvest time while mine looked as though someone sprayed “shrinking dust” on them. But large or small, gorgeous or mutant looking, one thing was certain, both groups tasted fantastic. Thanks for the memories.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Gardening in tandem must have been so satisfying! And we know why home grown produce is likely to taste better, don’t we?

      1. iglengel says:

        Cause it is home grown and no pesticides. 👍 And It was “home grown!”

  6. Sadje says:

    You’ve made a very valid point Rachel. I’d love to grow naturally, without boundaries.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      And I think you will, Sadie.

      1. Sadje says:

        Thanks 🤩

  7. Lesley Maclean says:

    Love your vege garden exploration. While reading this, an image came to mind of an impromptu garden of weeds I saw once in a vacant lot. There had been a building there once, which had been damaged by the quake and then demolished. In the gap, these weeds were returning, offering their humble wild beauty. And someone had placed an elegant sign on the fence giving information about each plant, as if it were a botanical display. Well I guess it now was! Maybe a potager garden in heavy disguise.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Aha! Perhaps it was a potager garden’s revenge! Such beautiful changes. I will wear my raggiest old sweater into the city today in sympathy.

  8. Alan Ralph says:

    My mum’s garden is a bit like Richard’s, not formal but still productive. Trees and shrubs have come and gone over the years, some quietly, others abruptly due to storm damage. Mum turned 82 this year, and I’m helping her out more with garden maintenance. She’s quite happy for it to go into gentle decline once she’s gone, or for myself and my sister to do with it as we see fit. Personally, I’d like to keep the fruit-production side of it going, plus some planting to support the local birds.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Your mother sounds wise to me. And I like your plans for the future. A food garden grows and changes and matures like its people.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    I enjoyed that you were able to bring the metaphor of the garden up to date. Of course the Bible is full of garden imagery, but I hadn’t thought of applying it now to me. I may be a bit “overgrown” but I am quite luscious!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I bet you are!

  10. Aging naturally band gracefully. That’s what it is. Beautiful narration. You almost took me for a walk through a home and a potager garden. The smell of fresh veggies are lingering on.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thank you Saji!

  11. "Miss BB" says:

    You have a brilliant way with words! Without seeming to be brilliant, if you understand what I am trying to say. I hope you do! I mean it, in the most wonderful way.

    Why have I had your blog, in my Saved Things, and not read it?????? Why oh why oh why!?!

    Did I see the spaces to fill in, to comment…. And presume that yours was one of those blogs,. where one has to fill them in, _every_ time one wants to comment???

    Well, if I did, why didn’t I comment once? And find out that you are one of the _brilliant_ ones, who lets Dear Readers say, we want your blog to save our info?

    Oh silly, silly me! How much time has been lost, not reading your delightful blog?????? And at my age (84) one does not want to waste any time, which could have been spent, in Joy!!!!

    Well, I am here now. No crying over spilt milk and all that…

    Gentle hugs,
    “Miss BB”

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      What a wonderful letter to receive with breakfast on a Monday morning! Now is now, and you are with me, Miss BB. I’m so happy you are on board now. I too hate those blogs where you can’t comment without giving your details and I have never found out why it happens with mine– for some people. It may differ according to how and where you read blogs. Or not. Thank you for joining us here.

  12. "Miss BB" says:

    Oh and….. I have heard the word, but never knew, what potager meant!!! Thank you!

    And no, I do not like what it means. Way too fussssssy and perfect looking. -smile-

    Gentle hugs…

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