June's book of the month The Phaidon Book Club
Grow Fruit & Vegetables in Pots
Expert planting advice for growing fruit and vegetables in pots from the acclaimed English garden – with 50 delicious recipes
Beautifully illustrated, Grow Fruit & Vegetables in Pots provides clear, practical information on growing fruit and vegetables in containers, whether that be a window box or a terracotta pot on a balcony. Aaron Bertelsen of the acclaimed English garden at Great Dixter will guide you through what to grow, which pots to use, give personal tips on varieties to choose, and advice on cultivation and care. Featuring more than 50 delicious recipes, Bertelsen shows that lack of space is no barrier to growing what you want to eat, and proves that harvesting and cooking food you have grown yourself is a total pleasure, with dishes that showcase a few perfectly chosen – and personally grown – ingredients.
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How would suggest getting started? Which fruit and vegetables are easiest to care for if you are new to growing them?
I think the first question to ask must be, why are you doing this? Assuming the answer is because you want to eat your own produce rather than just greening up the space, the next question is, what do you want to eat? If you’re not interested in what you’re growing, it’s never going to be a success. After that, you need to look at your growing conditions. A south-facing terrace or balcony is the perfect sun-trap for woody, aromatic Mediterranean herbs and tomatoes; in a north-east facing patch like my courtyard, leafy crops such as Swiss chard, salads and rhubarb will thrive, along with moisture-lovers like beans and peas.
Which fruit and vegetables are best to grow in small spaces, both indoors and outdoors?
A selection of herbs and salad leaves will deliver a lot of bang for the buck and liven up so many meals. You can even grow them on a window sill but it must be a window that opens to allow crops access to direct sunlight and plenty of fresh air, otherwise they will grow straggly and weak. For fruit, the obvious choice in a small space is strawberries. I love to grow the small Alpine varieties, that seem to taste like violets. Despite their delicate appearance they are very tough and will happily grow around the base of a larger plant or even – once they’re established – in cracks in the paving. But if I had to choose just one vegetable crop to grow it would be sorrel. I love its refreshingly astringent flavour and it is impossible to buy in the shops.
As we head into the summer months, which seasonal fruit and vegetables are best to grow?
Midsummer is the best time to sow peppery salad crops such as rocket, mustard greens and radishes. Any earlier and they are likely to be set upon by flea beetle, peppering the leaves with tiny holes. I also like to get a second sowing of peas in around now. You can choose whether to let the pods develop or just add the pea shoots to salads or summer pasta and risotto dishes. The great thing about peas is that they grow vertically, so they are ideal for adding a bit of height and visual interest to a tight space.
Which fruit and vegetables do well in a space that does not receive direct sunlight?
Crops with big leaves – Swiss chard, kale, rhubarb – will quickly flag in direct sun and much prefer partial shade. Ditto mixed salad leaves and lettuces, and the soft herbs such as parsley, coriander and mint. Raspberries, gooseberries and currants – which, after all, are originally woodland plants – will do well for you too.
Any suggestions or hacks for how to turn potted fruit and vegetables into a home design feature?
There is absolutely no reason why a container garden shouldn’t be a thing of beauty as well as a source of delicious food. The goal should be to create a space that brings you pleasure, When it comes to choosing pots and containers, think about your environment. Terracotta is perfect for the courtyard at Great Dixter, with its mellow brick floor and walls, while galvanised metal or concrete can look wonderful in an urban setting. When arranging my pots, I’m always trying to avoid things looking flat or static. Of course some plants are superstars in their own right – I’m thinking of you, Peppermint chard – while others combine to great effect: think purple violas next to the saturated green of curly parsley, or acid yellow dill next to scarlet kale. Shape too is a vital consideration. Vertical elements such as a fruit tree, either trained or in its natural form or a wigwam of canes supporting half a dozen climbing French beans, will add so much to the overall picture.