Le Potager -The Kitchen Garden

Le Potager – In the Kitchen Garden

The potager is an essential aspect of French life, rooted deep in the time when a sustainable life was a necessity. It is a year-round vegetable garden just large enough to supply the household – and maybe a few friends and relatives -with fresh vegetables and herbs every day. In France, you’ll see these vegetable gardens in front yards, side yards, along stream banks and railroad tracks. Property deeds may indicate, as mine does, an area of land designated as the potager. Of course, today, whether in France or elsewhere, not everyone has the space or time to raise all their own vegetables, but many still try to raise something of their own, such as tomatoes, lettuce, leeks or herbs.
When I lived in Provence, I bought my vegetable seeds from a small agricultural store in a neighboring village. The name on all the seed packets was Vilmorin. Later, I learned that it was the oldest seed company in the world, founded in Paris in 1743. All the seeds in La Vie Rustic’s Seed Collections are heirlooms, in production for over 75 years, and those marked with a “V” appear in The Vegetable Garden, a thick tome written by the famous French seedsmen and horticulturists, M.M. Vilmorin-Andrieux, over 125 years ago. The English language version appeared in 1885.
Growing vegetables from these seeds will not only provide you with personal satisfaction in the kitchen, but with the knowledge that you are participating in a chain with links going back more than 250 years to the Quai de la Mégisserie in Paris where Vilmorin has had a seed shop since the 18th century.


la vie chicory photo

Photograph by Thomas Kuoh www.thomaskuoh.com

Escarole, frisée and radicchio are all chicories. In French markets and home gardens, you’ll always see a goodly amount of lacy-leafed frisée, thick-leafed, tender hearted escarole, and multiple varieties of chicorée sauvage, or, to the Italians, radicchio. All belong to the chicory family and share a characteristic slight, but desirable, bitterness. They are versatile in the kitchen. Beyond making hearty salads, they can be braised, grilled, baked, or made into soups.

About Escarole and Frisée
The escaroles and frisées have pale yellow hearts which are tender and mild, while the outer dark green leaves are tougher. Escaroles have thick leaves, slightly ruffled on the edges, and thick midribs. Frisées have thin, fine, lacy leaves with thin, delicate midribs. The hearts of both may need to be blanched – that is it is protected from sunlight (and consequently from photosynthesis that turns the leaves green) by one of several different methods. It is not unusual to see an escarole or frisée in a French market that is 18 inches in diameter with a 12-inch blanched heart.


Frisee and Green Bean Salad Photograph by Sara Remington

About Radicchio
Radicchio, which in French is called chicorée sauvage, varies, according to variety, from a lush magenta to pale green speckled with rose. There are also dark green types.
Radicchio can be red, pink, pale or dark green at maturity, but most start out as green. As the heads swell, the inner leaves, protected by the outer wrap, begin to color.

Contents of the French Chicory Seed Collection

IMG_6820 (Copy)A large overpacket, letterpress printed on a 1950 Heidelberg press by a master printer, contains 6 individual packets with 1 gram each of the chicory varieties below, each enough for planting a 50 foot row or multiple seedings of shorter rows, plus complete planting and blanching instructions.

The seeds

  • Scarole Cornet de Bordeaux – This is an upright escarole with tightly-wrapped, somewhat flaring leaves that protect its pale yellow heart. The cornet type was described in the Vilmorin book. It is self-blanching.
  • Scarole Pain de Sucre – This is an upright heirloom escarole growing up to 18 inches or more, with tightly wrapped leaves. It is self-blanching.
  •  Scarole Blonde a Coeur Plein – This is a flat, spreading escarole with sturdy, tightly bunched center leaves. It needs to be blanched to maximize tender leaves.
  •  Frisée Très Fine Maraichère – The very fine feathered leaves of this heirloom curl into a robust heart. It needs to be blanched to maximize tender leaves.
  •  Frisée Ruffec – V – this sturdy  frisée received high praise from MM. Vilmorian-Andrieux over 125 years ago. “The midrib of the leaf is very white and thick, very tender and tasty.” It needs to be blanched to maximize tender leaves.
  • Chicorée Sauvage de Verone –This is a classic radicchio originating in the region of Verona in northern Italy. It produces a sturdy round head, and the dark outer leaves will keep the leaves of the inner heart tender. The inner leaves are magenta with wide, white midribs. There will be some plant variations.

When to plant: In cool climates, plant in spring when the ground thaws for a summer harvest. In warm climates, plant in summer for a fall and winter harvest.

Germination: 7 to 10 days
Days to maturity: approximately 90 days

In the Kitchen: The robust leaves of escarole and frisée make excellent salads that handle big flavors, like crispy bacon or jambon cru, sausages, fried eggs, cheese, or garlic croutons (your choice of combination) and dressings rich with balsamic or aged cider vinegars. A French classic is a frisée salad topped with warm goat cheese. Escarole and radicchio are also excellent grilled.

French Chicory Seed Collection ……………….$15.00



Photograph by Thomas Kuoh www.thomaskuoh.com

In French markets and home gardens, you’ll see an ever-changing array of lettuces in all colors, leaf types, shapes, and sizes. Red, pale green, dark green, variegated, tight heads, loose heads, tall and short – the choice is vast and varied. The ones we have selected here represent a combination of shapes, colors and flavors that will ensure you a wide range of lettuces for your salads. All of them are heirlooms with a long history of being cultivated in French potager and market gardens. The seed varieties marked with a “V” indicates they were described by the famous French seedsmen and horticulturalists, MM. Vilmorin-Andrieux, over 125 years ago in their book, The Vegetable Garden, first published in English in 1885.


Butterhead Lettuce Salad Photograph by Sara Remington

Types of Lettuce
Batavian or Crisphead
Batavian lettuces are somewhat old-fashioned. They form a semi-tight head, with looser, spreading outer leaves. They are the precursor to the crisphead or iceberg types so commonly seen today with exceedingly tight heads and lots of wrapper leaves, which are generally discarded before being sent to market.

Butterhead Lettuce
Butterhead lettuce forms small to medium heads comprised of loosely folding leaves with a fine texture. The leaves are very smooth and delicate, making these a favorite in France for the classic, thick mustard vinaigrette that coats the leaves.

Romaine or Cos
Romaine lettuce forms an upright head, with elongated leaves that are slightly spoon-shaped. The leaves may be slightly ruffled at the end and the mid-rib may or may not be pronounced. Romaines are typically quite sturdy and crunchy.

Loose-leaf lettuces grow in a loose, open shape with no discernible head forming. None of this type is included in our French Lettuce Seed Collection.

Contents of the French Lettuce Seed Collection
A large overpacket, letterpress printed on a 1950 Heidelberg press by a master printer, contains 6 individual packets with 1 gram each of the lettuce varieties below, each enough for planting a 50 foot row or multiple seedings of shorter rows, plus complete planting and blanching instructions.

The Seeds

  • Reine des Glaces, also known as Frisée de Beauregard – V -This Batavian type, like some of the other lettuces in this collection, has been cultivated for more than 125 years, a testimonial to how good it is. It might be my favorite lettuce. It has deeply cut, almost lacy leaves with spiky edges, and its tightly curled head has an iceberg look. It’s easy to imagine that once upon a time iceberg lettuce did look and taste like Reine des Glaces, full of favor with a crunchy texture. Although best grown in the cool days of spring and fall, it can tolerate some heat.
  • .Rouge Grenobloise- This Batavian type has a large head, heavily brushed with varying shades of magenta, and pale-green inner leaves that are somewhat crisp. The leaves are curly and ruffled. It does equally well in warm and cold weather, making it a good choice for many growing areas.
  • Merveille de Quatre Saisons – V – This is a classic larger butterhead type, with soft delicate leaves that are blushed dark magenta along the tops, pale green at the base. It has been in production for more than 125 years and is still a favorite in farmers’ markets and restaurants, not yet eclipsed by new breeding. It’s called ‘4 Seasons’ because in all but the hottest and coldest climates, it can be grown year-round, though it is best, I think, in spring and fall.
  • Reine de Mai – This butterhead lettuce forms a lovely little pale creamy-green head, sometimes tinged with just a bit of rose. The leaves, like other butterheads, are fine and delicate, and their unusual color sets them apart. It is not very heat tolerant.
  • Rougette de Montpellier, also known as Rougette de Midi- This butterhead type forms a small, almost round head with typically dark maroon leaves, green at the base. The leaves are tender and delicate. It is more tolerant to heat than some other butterheads.
  • Romaine Rouge d’Hiver- V – This romaine, after being in production for more than 125 years, remains a standard for both home and market growers. The leaves are smoother and more delicate than those of most romaines and vary in shade from maroon to bronzish red, with pale green bases. This lettuce is excellent to harvest as baby lettuce when the leaves are 4 or 5 inches long, and of course, it can also be harvested at full size.

When to plant: Climate is the major influence on lettuce. When the days grow hot, the lettuce becomes bitter. Plant in spring and fall in warm climates, spring, summer, and fall in cooler climates.

Germination: 5 to 7 days
Days to maturity: Approximately 28 days for baby leaf, 50-58 days for full heads.

In the Kitchen: Try Reine des Glaces for your next wedge salad with blue cheese dressing, adding some crumbled bacon. Combine Reine de Mai with fresh tarragon, basil, and chives and dress with Champagne vinaigrette. Mix all the baby lettuce leaves together and some fresh herbs to make your own mesclun mix. Most of all, enjoy a fresh garden salad every day.

French Lettuce Seed Collection ……………….$15.00


Michael Schwab, the brilliant graphic designer behind iconic logos for such clients as  Amtrack, US National Parks, and NPR, http://www.michaelschwab.com  as is also the design force behind La Vie Rustic. Most recently he created the design for my  Potager Garden Set with 3 fold out maps, one for each for spring, summer, and fall. On one side is a planting scheme for a small garden space and on the other, complete planting and harvesting instructions. In the convenient Kraft box, in addition to the maps,  you’ll find a muslin bag with a  Baker’s Dozen of French vegetable seeds plus one flower – because gardens should be pretty – to plant throughout  the seasons. Also included are 13 sturdy aluminum garden markers. (Photograph by Thomas Kuoh)0216_2015-10-27_LaVieRusticpotager box










The seeds include roquette (arugula), Flamboyant radishes, round Paris Market carrots, Merveille de 4 Saisons lettuce, Très Fine Maraichère frisée and Carouby de Maussane peas to harvest in mid- to late spring.  Longe de Violette eggplant, Marmande tomato, La Victoire haricot vert, Verte de Petit Paris cucumber, Ronde de Nice zucchini and Charentais melon to plant in late spring and early summer for summer harvest. In mid–to late summer, while you are harvesting your summer vegetables, you’ll also be planting vegetables that thrive in the cooling weather of fall, the same vegetables you planted in spring’s cool weather. You’ll plant frisée again, as well as lettuce, carrots, roquette, and radishes, this time for fall and early winter harvest. TEMPORARILY OUT OF STOCKIMG_2676

Potager Seed Set with Garden Maps………………………………………………..$38.00




0249_2015-10-27_LaVieRusticxspring pot









Here is a simple collection of 6 French vegetable seed packets plus a packet of flower seed for planting in spring. It includes a spring garden map and complete growing instructions. The seeds are the same ones that are in the larger Potager spring section. (see above) TEMPORARILY OUT OF STOCK

This set comes packaged in a sturdy Kraft mailing envelope as seen here.IMG_2725

Spring Potager Seed Set with Map………………………………..$18.00







 A Child’s Kitchen Garden Seed Set

With gift-giving worthy packaging, a Child’s Kitchen Garden Seed Set is the perfect gift for young gardeners and their families. It is ideal for adults and children to do together, from planting to harvest to table.

0290_2015-10-27_LaVieRusticchilds 2

childs garden








A Child’s Kitchen Garden Seed Collection has been designed by La Vie Rustic with children’s needs in mind. It is modeled on the French-style potager, with a continuing harvest to bring to the kitchen. The collection contains large seeds for small hands, quick to germinate and grow. The garden is meant for children and adults to do together from planting to harvest and on into the kitchen, and it is an opportunity for sharing and learning together, whether in a home, school, or community garden.

Swiss Chard Whole and ChoppedEach of the 6 types of vegetable seeds included has its own matching card with botanical, historical information, how to plant, grow, and harvest instructions plus a section called -” What to Look For” – so that even a parent or adult with no idea of gardening can either be one step ahead of the child as the plants grow or discover and understand the changes together. There is also a section “In the Kitchen” with suggestions on using the vegetables.

Children and adult alike will find a thrill each day as they watch their vegetable seeds grow then develop pods of peas or beans, roots, or buds that they can harvest and proudly bring to the kitchen to share with their family. There is a range of harvest times, from less than 30 days for the radish, up to 180 days for the artichokes.

Fava Bean Blossoms

Fava Bean Blossoms

Some of the seeds selected, like the fava beans, artichokes and scarlet runner beans date back to antiquity and have been staple foods for man for thousands of years. Others, like the Carouby French pea, and rainbow chard date to the 19th century, and have proven to be garden and market garden favorites for over 100 years.

Children growing these vegetables from seeds will be following in the footsteps of generations who have preceded them, sharing in the process of growing their own food, if only radishes and beans.

As the vegetables grow, children will discover an array of colors, from the first green leaves to the final purple thistle of the artichoke, the scarlet blooms of the runner bean and the orange, red, pink, and white ribs of the rainbow chard.

Planting, tending, and harvesting a kitchen garden with a child is a rewarding experience, and a gift that will create lasting memories for a lifetime, as well as an understanding of where food comes from. It is a good beginning.

Contents: 6 individually packed vegetable seed varieties and 6 individual information cards with complete growing instructions and an overview card, all packed in a large, letter press printed envelope.


Scarlet Runner Beans Photo Thomas Kuoh www.thomaskuoh.com

The Seeds
Carouby de Maussane French Pea – Pisum sativum (vining)
Scarlet Runner Beans – Phaseolus coccineus (vining)
Green Globe Artichoke – Cynara scolymus
Rainbow Chard – Beta vulgaris, subsp. cicla
Gaudry Red Radish –Raphanus sativus
Fava Beans- Vicia faba

Total seed weight: 7 ounces  TEMPORARILY OUT OF STOCK

Price: $18.00


Pisum sativum

This unusual 19th century heirloom pea comes from Maussane, near Avignon in southern France. Both the 5-inch long pods and the large peas that form inside are sweet and fully edible, as are the shoots. It is called a mangetout or ‘eat it all’ bean. The vining plant, with beautiful
pink and lavender blossoms can grow up to 5 feet and will need support. Stake a piece of bamboo next to the plant when it is about 10 inches tall, gently tying it to the stake with string, or, stake a twiggy branch next to the plant and let it twine around it.

SEASON: Sow seeds in early spring for late spring and early summer harvest, and again in mid-to late summer for a fall harvest. In areas with mild winter climates, seeds can also be sown in late fall for an early spring harvest.


DAYS TO HARVEST: approximately 65 days for young pods, 70-75 days for mature pods; shoots can be harvested in 30 to 40 days.

PLANTING: Sow seeds 1 inch deep, 3 inches apart, in loose, rich, well-prepared soil, in full sun. Cover and pat soil over them. Keep the soil moderately moist.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The thick hypocotyls or necks of the pea seedlings will emerge first. Once they break through the surface and uncurl, two round leaves will unfold, followed by more leaves and curly tendrils. The blossoms appear next. As the flowers bloom, wither and fall
off, they will reveal a tiny pea pod. Within a week the first pods may be picked and eaten whole, and in another 7 to 10 days, the larger pods can be picked and also eaten whole, along with the round, juicy peas inside.

HARVEST: Clip shoots, hand pick pods. Pick frequently to encourage new growth.

IN THE KITCHEN: It’s hard not to eat these peas straight out of the garden. However, if they make it to the kitchen, sauté them in a little butter, use them in stir-fries, in salads, or even juice them.