Did you dabble with growing your own fruit and veg during last year’s lockdown? Take it to the next level this year with some edible ornamentals and new varieties…
It’s incredibly satisfying to grow your own, with whatever space you have. All kinds of veg can be cultivated in containers, and micro salads and herbs can also thrive in a spot on a sunny kitchen window, so you don’t even have to have any outside space!
Sunnyside Rural Trust’s* Matt Felix and Catherine Jones have this great advice to get you started:
‘The easiest are types of root veg, where some tubers can be saved back and replanted for the next year’s crop, and almost forgotten about for the growing season. These include plants such as potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes and ocra, a special South American root vegetable that grows well in UK summers. Many have beautiful flowers and foliage to admire before your harvest and have a lot of nutrients in them too.
‘The most important rule of growing your own food is to only grow what you like to eat! It seems simple but it’s easy to plant so many things that you may end up not eating. Select your top five favourite veggies and stick to them as a starting point.’
Plan your seed sowing
It’s easy to go mad, and sow a whole pack of carrot seeds at once – but the problem is that you will have a whole patch of carrots ready at the same time. Sow every couple of weeks and you’ll have a continuous supply. And remember, carrots come in all kinds of colours – which may tempt young picky eaters. ‘Cosmic Purple’ has purple skin and is light orange inside, or look for a seed selection that also includes yellow and white carrots – Thompson & Morgan’s Carrot ‘Sweet Imperator Mix’ for example. Salad leaves are probably one of the easiest things to grow – and you’ll save a packet if you usually buy bags of leaves from the supermarket! Just remember to sow regularly.
Where to grow?
If you have plenty of space in your garden, you can have a proper veg patch. Divide into beds, using sleepers or proprietary raised bed kits – and make sure you leave enough space for you to sow, tend to, weed, and harvest without stepping on surrounding plants.
Raised beds are great, especially if you have a bad back or other mobility issues. And because the beds are filled with fresh compost you don’t have so many issues with weeds and stones.
Your veg plot can look pretty and be functional. Grow French marigolds around beans, sweetcorn and tomatoes to keep aphids away. Multicoloured nasturtiums will lure Cabbage White butterflies away from cabbages and broccoli – and you can use the petals in salads.
Other good looking, and edible plants include:
- Kale ‘Jardin Mixed’ – vegetable plant of the year 2020, this pretty brassica will surprise you with frilly leaves ranging in colour from purple to green and white.
- Bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’) has fern-like foliage and yellow flowers.
- Globe Artichoke – majestic thistle-like plants with wonderful purple flowers and silvery green leaves.
- Chard – a reliable and useful crop. Choose the multicoloured stems of ‘Bright Lights’ for maximum good looks.
- Peas – choose the variety ‘Blauwschokker’ for its pretty lilac and purple flowers and deep purple peapods.
- Chives – easy to grow, the pink-purple flowers brighten up a dull corner – use them to make onion fragranced, pretty pink chive vinegar.
* Sunnyside Rural Trust is a charity and social enterprise offering training and work experience for vulnerable people. They grow fresh veg that is sold in their shops either fresh, or in jams and chutneys. Most of the 30-plus types of vegetables, plus soft fruit and herbs are grown on the Northchurch site. They also run a veg box scheme from April to December. Find out more at www.sunnysideruraltrust.org.uk
Gareth Richards, editor of the RHS Grow Your Own newsletter, offers his top tips…
- Sow salad plants like lettuces and radishes regularly in small quantities, to ensure a steady supply of harvests.
- Club together with friends and neighbours to swap seeds.
- Remember to feed crops in pots with liquid plant food for better harvests.
- Try growing strawberries in growbags for a decent crop from a small space.
- Don’t be tempted to sow seeds of outdoor crops too early. Tender but quick-growing things like courgettes, sweetcorn and runner beans need to be sown late April at the earliest.
Find out about the RHS GYO newsletter at rhs.org.uk/gyo