Landscape architect creates an award-winning potager

  • Landscape designer John Staab stands under an arch of pear trees in the Barrington Hills potager. The first work he did for Vicky and John Wauterlek on their 10 acres was in 1985 when he was an intern.

      Landscape designer John Staab stands under an arch of pear trees in the Barrington Hills potager. The first work he did for Vicky and John Wauterlek on their 10 acres was in 1985 when he was an intern. Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • John Staab likes circles, and a turret on an adjacent building inspired the round shapes in the Barrington Hills potager.

      John Staab likes circles, and a turret on an adjacent building inspired the round shapes in the Barrington Hills potager. Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Asparagus foliage acts as a feathery hedge in the potager that nestles up to old buildings on a Barrington Hills acreage.

      Asparagus foliage acts as a feathery hedge in the potager that nestles up to old buildings on a Barrington Hills acreage. Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • The award-winning potager in Barrington Hills is attractive as well as productive.

      The award-winning potager in Barrington Hills is attractive as well as productive. Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/11/2011 6:41 AM

"Potager" sounds fancier than "vegetable garden." And not just because the word is French.

Traditionally, these plots feature cutting flowers, fruit trees and berries as well as vegetables.

 

And, at least in the one that John Staab created in Barrington Hills, attractive design is as important as bounty.

Staab is a horticulturist and landscape architect with Brickman Group. He won national awards for the potager at the home of Vicky Wauterlek, who uses the acreage each year to host the Barrington Country Faire, an annual event that raises money for women and children in Africa.

The fair is in June each year, but Staab's tour for the Daily Herald extends its role as an incentive for gardeners to share ideas.

The estate is part of an 1890s country retreat, and Victorian buildings still standing inspired Staab's design of the potager.

One wall of the garden is a carriage house with a huge turret and whitewashed common brick that looks very French country.

"The round shape of the turret also inspired the concept for the radiating pattern in the garden beds and walkway system," said Staab.

He calls the potager a "secret garden" because it is separated from the pool area by a hedge of arborvitae. The gates he designed to cut through the hedge are topped with old iron headboards that Vicky Wauterlek found.

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These attractive but impervious boundaries are very important to keep deer out.

"I've only seen one deer in here," said the landscape architect. "I was in here alone and had left the gate open. I heard his hoofs across the bluestone. When he saw me, he was like a marble in a pinball machine, bouncing off the fences. Finally I had to grab him and push him out."

The paths are not just for show. Dividing the garden this way makes it easier to tend the plants and pick the bounty without compacting the earth.

Another showy but utilitarian feature is the arch of pear trees and the rows of espaliered fruit trees.

"Planting them on an angle and orienting them to the sun allows them to get full sun on both sides," he said. "It's a new way to grow apples. Now we see apples planted closely together and stopped at a certain height. Arching over the top branches creates more horizontal runs, which means more fruit."

A patch of rhubarb testifies that the area was a kitchen garden long ago, said Staab.

He wanted to keep the native soil, so he added horse manure and let the whole mixture cure for a year before planting. Organic gardening methods used here include flowers as companions to deter insects from the vegetables, crop rotation, compost tea and Bt bacteria for pest control.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Staab likes his edibles to be interesting and ornamental. He planted three varieties of asparagus, and their foliage serves as a hedge. Details are important, too. The garden's trellises and cages for heirloom tomatoes like the flavorful Black Crimson are decorative.

Here are some other plants in the garden.

•Cardoon is in the thistle family, but before you say "ugh," you should know it is also related to the artichoke. The stalks look like celery and can be steamed or deep fried,

•Celeriac, which tastes like celery, is a root vegetable that can be eaten raw or cooked. It is sometimes mashed and is used in soups.

•Companion planting keeps the garden looking good throughout the season. For example, when the Kentucky Wonder pole beans are finished, the nearby Sugar Baby watermelons fill in. The tomatoes grow bigger when the peas are gone, and cabbage can replace lettuce.

•Almonds. Staab is experimenting growing an almond tree to see if it's hardy in our area.

And why does Staab think his garden impressed the judges so much?

"It's the practical aspect of this garden," he said. "You can create an organic garden to live off. It's functional, but it shows beauty in the garden. Growing our own food is a trend."