Planting a Quick Kitchen Garden this Summer
Planting a kitchen garden is possible in the smallest space. We can’t promise you Victorian stately home abundance. But growing your own herbs, cut and come again salad and one or two of the many manageable tomato varieties gives you a fantastic sense of achievement, even if you only run to a couple of containers and a tiny window box.
Patio owners can spread out a bit and include some of the larger perennial herbs in their planting. A little more space also gives you scope to add one or two big, dramatic feature pots as you don’t have to move them around too much. And if you have folding exterior doors you can plan your kitchen garden as an ‘outdoor room’, ideal for summer parties since the British weather certainly can’t be relied on to behave like a perfect guest.
But time’s getting on for the summer-ready garden and you’ll need to move fast.
Think about buying seedlings rather than seeds for vegetables. Look out for local plant sales and open garden days, they’re always good for cuttings and hardy herbs. And don’t dismiss the idea of buying standards like Rosemary and Lavender in 4L pot sizes. In the right position they can last for years so they’re a worthwhile investment.
The miniature kitchen garden rules are: versatile, edible, pretty and easy. In fact we’d probably be inclined to put ‘easy’ in at number one because we don’t think mollycoddling needy plants is something any contented gardener should be doing. Our top six suggestions obey every rule but once you get the hang of things feel free to break them all or add a few more, it’s your garden you can do what you like.
Dwarf Cherry TomatoesTomatoes fresh from the garden are brilliant and the right type behave beautifully in containers and small spaces. Two varieties we love are Tom Thumb and Balconi Red. They’re both dwarf bush cherry tomatoes, crop really well, look gorgeous and taste fantastic. Remember how much tomato plants like water. Air round the roots is essential so drill a few holes round the base of pots to let them breathe. And dilute your
liquid feed more than instructed then use twice as much – little and often is the secret.
Cut and Come-Again Lettuce
Loose leaf lettuce is the best choice for containers. If you’re a novice try Red Oak Leaf or Green Oak Leaf (or both). Another plant that loves water, lettuce also loathes wet roots, so terracotta pots work best. Use a mix of peat and compost soil and plant seedlings at least 10cm apart. And for light, colourful summer salads pick leaves from the outside of the plants – they’ll look a bit bald for a day or two but they soon grow again. Remember to watch out for slugs, they like lettuce almost as much as we do – set a beer trap, pellets are brutal and as lethal to birds as they are to pests.
Onions are delicious, but the plants are too big and boisterous for neat gardening. The next best thing are Chives. Probably the easiest herb to grow Chives are also the least expensive to buy so you can afford quite a few. The flowers are fuzzy and purple in early summer and the long, grass-like leaves last well into the autumn and taste wonderful in salad or snipped over new potatoes. Plant in little vintage pots for the window ledge or in larger containers where they’ll spread out to fill the space.
You have tomatoes? You have to have Basil. This gorgeously aromatic herb smells like summer holidays and you can shred its bright, glossy leaves over anything for instant glamour. It’s also the basis of traditional pesto if you feel like cooking. And don’t forget to snip off the growing tips regularly before they flower and Basil just keeps on giving. Looks very pretty planted in long containers with Flat Leaf Parsley and Coriander.
‘Plant Rosemary by the garden gate and love will always live in your house’, so the old saying goes. Whether you believe it or not, no one should be without at least one Rosemary bush. Not only is it an incredibly hardy plant and totally fuss-free, it smells amazing: crush a silvery leaf between your fingers and tell us you aren’t instantly reminded of Sunday roast lunch. Rosemary will flourish for years and if you cut it back a little in June and July it grows bushier – only perfect for a mini kitchen garden.
This member of the mint family is just as invasive as all its cousins. But, plant it in a container in the kitchen garden and it’s magnificent. Lemon balm likes a bit of shade and is vigorous and bushy so you can tuck a container behind other more sun-greedy, smaller herbs and it makes a lush, citrus scented backdrop. Cut the fresh, green leaves in summer, freeze them in ice cubes then pour yourself a G & T, sit back and enjoy the garden – you deserve it.
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