How to grow an edible garden

Martyn Cox

Think again if you thought it was impossible to grow fruit and vegetables alongside ornamental plants.



Anybody can grow edibles, even those with a traditional garden consisting of beds and borders filled with trees, shrubs and perennials – all you need to do is plug gaps with crops that have attractive leaves, flowers or fruit, or boast architectural good looks, to create a garden that is both pretty and productive.

What to grow

Bare patches of earth between ornamentals are perfect for perennial or annual crops. Feathery bronze fennel is an imposing, but airy perennial for the back of the border, while artichokes or cardoons can be grown in the same position, but need more space to allow their silvery leaves to unfurl. When room is tight at the back, try sweetcorn – these are the edible equivalent of bamboo, but better behaved. Plant several to ensure successful pollination. Another good looker is Jerusalem artichoke. A relative of the sunflower, this towering plant has showy yellow flowers and delicious edible roots.

In traditional borders, flowering climbers, such as clematis or sweetpeas, morning glory or other annuals, might be grown up an ornamental obelisk or wigwam to provide some height. Why not try an edible plant instead? There are plenty that have attractive foliage, flowers and of course, will provide you with something delicious to eat. Among the best plants to lift the eye are climbing beans; 'Purple Teepee' has long purple pods, while its cousin 'Golden Teepee' has bright yellow pods. For something completely different, go for a borlotti bean – these Italian specialities have dazzling green pods that are heavily marked with red.

Colourful stemmed Swiss chard is ideal in the middle of beds. Track down the seed mixture 'Bright Lights', it contains plants in seven zingy colours, including red, yellow, orange and purple. Other head turners include kale 'Red Russian', which has red frilly leaves and black Tuscan kale, a tasty veg with an upright plume of black, deeply puckered leaves that's also known as cavelo Nero.

Beetroot, carrots, lettuce, rocket, shallots, sage and dwarf peas are great at the front, while wild strawberries, thyme, chives and plants with edible flowers, such as pansies, violets and forget-me-nots, make perfect edging plants.

Fruit

Many trees, bushes or low-growing plants have pretty fruit, attractive flowers or foliage. If you don’t have room in a bed, make the most of vertical surfaces such as walls and fences - grape vines, kiwi fruits, fan-trained cherries, espalier or cordon apples, plums, peaches and figs are all ideal. Make sure you install some horizontal training wires or screw on a piece of trellis before planting.

Preparing the ground

Before planting or sowing anything, you need to prepare the soil. If there’s room, fork it over and rake to leave a fine finish. Either broadcast sow the seeds or make shallow trenches. Remember to thin the seedlings out give them space to grow - the distance will depend on the variety. Of course, in many beds there won’t be room to cultivate the ground properly, so prepare the soil as best you can – you might find a long-handled hand fork or trowel useful for doing this.

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