A pint sized plot can still give you plenty of fresh greens, says Jane Moore
I’m a girl who likes to eat my greens as well as grow them and I’ve grown them in all sorts of odd places. I’ve lived in some varied rental properties over the years as you can probably imagine. I’ve grown tomatoes and potatoes in pots while in a flat, fantastic shallots on the sandy soil of Bournemouth while working on a gardening magazine and I’ve even had my ‘allotment years’ on the slopes of Bathampton. In those years my co-allotmenteer Lizzy and I had such a surfeit of produce that I became adept at pickling and preserving which I still love doing.
In the last few years I’ve stuck to growing stuff at The Bath Priory but lately my thoughts have been turning to creating a little plot at home, just a raised bed for all those salads and baby vegetables which are so expensive to buy and taste so much better fresh from the garden. Now there’s looming Brexit with all that entails, not to mention the Spanish broccoli and courgette crisis which may be over for the moment, but you do have to wonder if it’s the tip of the iceberg, pardon the pun.
But there’s no better way to soothe the anxious mind than a bit of gardening so let’s plant vegetables and salads and make sure we can do without the iceberg for a few months.
Where to grow? If you can find the space a little raised bed is always the best solution for the diminutive garden, especially if you’re short on time too. Raised beds make life easier for the gardener as they’re nicely contained making watering and slug management more straightforward and you can pack in your plants just that little bit more tightly than in a traditional bed, giving you greater crops in less space. I’ve known a little plot only a metre or so square keep a small family in salad leaves through the summer with some careful planning and repeat planting.
CROPS IN POTS
If you don’t have that amount of space or you’re passing through a garden fleetingly as a student or what-have-you then grow stuff in containers. I’ve done big pots with wigwams of runner and French beans under planted with marigolds for sheer jolliness and a few salad leaves.
Trailing Crystal Apple cucumbers look great in big pots with their pleasingly spherical shape and they’re the perfect size for a salad for two. You can grow lovely courgettes in a large pot – one courgette plant is plenty for a family of four unless you live on ratatouille – not to mention tomatoes such as Totem and Tumbler that have been specially bred for the container market.
Then there is a whole plethora of salad leaves such as cut-and-come again lettuces which are fab in all sorts of containers including window boxes as long as you keep watering them.
A quick crop is always encouraging and there are few things quicker than salad leaves so that’s a good place to start. Radishes would go very well with your salad and they’re also lightning quick to grow and don’t take up much space.
You’ll need a bit more room for chard but it makes a great addition to salads when the leaves are young and is a good leafy vegetable as it gets more mature. The colourful leaves might look great in a salad bowl but they also jazz up the garden too. Many herbs such as dill and chervil are pretty swift to get going too and a little goes a very long way with tasty things such as herbs so you only need a few at any one time.
KEEP IT COMING
The trick is to keep on sowing so you get a succession of crops which is where a cold frame or a not too sunny windowsill comes in handy. You need a bit of propagation going on regularly so you can pop something in as soon as you whip something out in true Blue Peter fashion. It’s simply a matter of sowing a few seeds every week or two to replace finished crops or worn out salads – and really I mean just a few as you don’t want too much at one go. Use those six packs left over from your bedding plants and sow a few lettuces and herbs at a time.
A FEW FLOWERS
Don’t forget there are quite a few edible flowers which will not only brighten up your mini kitchen garden but also your salad bowl. They’re very easy to grow but tend to cost a fortune if you buy ready prepared salads with flowers in them.
At The Priory we always grow nasturtiums for their brilliant orange, red and yellow edible flowers and for their crunchy, slightly peppery leaves for salads. The pot marigold or calendula has edible petals in clear orange or yellow and it also makes a lovely cut flower for those Sarah Raven moments. Finally wild rocket has the loveliest edible flowers – bright yellow with a strangely beguiling flavour of sweet pepperiness which is very umami. That’s once it gets a bit stressed and goes to seed, which wild rocket does without fail – that’s why you need to keep on sowing for later on.
Jane Moore is the award-winning gardening columnist and head gardener at The Bath Priory Hotel. @janethegardener.