Submitted by Columbia Valley Food and Farm

Plant to Plate, Farm to Table, Seed to Supper, Garden to Gourmet! Whatever you want to call it, restaurant dishes that include locally-grown ingredients represent what was once one of the fastest-growing culinary trends in Canada, and that has now become a defining feature of top restaurants around the world. The forming of partnerships between farms and restaurants and on-site kitchens in North America may have had its origins in the 1970s, but kitchen gardens have been around for a lot longer than that.

Known as ‘potager’ in French, the kitchen garden was the hallmark of the home landscape In Renaissance France. Potagers were planted with vegetables, herbs, and flowers, both edible and non-edible, near the kitchen, for easy access. It was important for the garden to be planted with beauty in mind as nourishment of the body and the soul was seen as equally important. Rows of vegetables were interspersed with brightly-coloured cut flowers and blooming herbs. Kitchen gardens were simple, country gardens or very formal, such as the elaborate geometric gardens of the Palace of Versailles.

A ground-breaking kitchen garden was established at Sooke Harbour House on Vancouver Island in the late 1970s. The inn’s restaurant was one of the best in North America for many years, owing its reputation to the beautiful ingredients grown in its kitchen garden. On a side note, the Columbia Valley has a connection to Sooke Harbour House. Sandra Howard, organizer of the Mount Nelson Community Gardens, a project of Groundswell Network Society, developed the original raised bed system at Sooke Harbour House. 

Kitchen Gardens are an important aspect of restaurants in the Columbia Valley, too. The Spilli Station Café in Spillimacheen prides itself on the culinary garden outside the cafe’s back door. According to Patricia Derbyshire, co-owner of the café, basil, kale, cilantro and lettuces are lovingly grown for use in many of their menu items. Other menu items also feature locally grown ingredients from nearby farms.  

Windermere is home to Edibles Café and is the only on-farm café in our area. While technically their kitchen garden covers much more ground than the typical potager, Edibles bases its menus on a wide variety of vegetables and herbs grown in the fields adjacent to the café.

Farther south in Fairmont Hot Springs, From Scratch, a Mountain Kitchen features a kitchen garden prominently at the entrance to the café. Lara McCormack shares that the raised beds hold four types of basil, mint, rosemary, thyme, savoury, tarragon and chervil. Herbs are picked each morning by the chefs for use in their dishes and to flavour delicious syrups for use in cocktails and iced teas. Mosquito-repelling plants such as citronella are grown, too, a bonus for patio dinners!

The great thing about kitchen gardens for the home cook is that the use of freshly harvested herbs and vegetables can really take your cooking up to the next level. Don’t have room for a garden? No problem, a wide variety of herbs and vegetables can be cultivated in pots on a deck or patio. Starting a kitchen garden is a fun way to dip your toes into the world of gardening, too. Don’t forget to plant a few edible flowers to give your potager that important aesthetically pleasing element.

Are you growing a kitchen garden? We would love to hear from you. Please email [email protected] and tell us about it.