What better way to start a summer’s day than stepping out of your back door and picking a delicious, tangy blueberry or fragrant strawberry?
Growing your own fruit and veg is always hugely satisfying, and to my mind, it’s even better when it’s easy and there’s no digging involved.
Bring a bit of your allotment into the garden and grow some mini fruit on small patio in pots.
If you buy potted plants much later, you risk damaging the flowers or developing fruit and sacrificing your home-grown harvests.
If you want to save money, there are bargains to be had as bare-root plants are still just available from specialist nurseries and mail order.
The range of peaches an nectarines available today shows you the skill of the nurseryman and plant breeder.
Gone are the days when you need a huge greenhouse to cultivate them.
Now you can grow these fruits at home, on the tiniest patio, as long as it’s sheltered and sunny. Dwarf peaches really are tiny.
You can buy them as ready-grown pot plants just a couple of feet tall, ready to fruit away this year.
They’ve long, glossy leaves and attractive pink blossom early in the year so put them in the best container you can afford as you won’t want to hide them away!
As they flower so early, frost can damage flowers and reduce your crop. If a freeze is forecast during the flowering period, wrap the plants in fleece overnight.
Alternatively, keep your potted peach and nectarine trees in an unheated greenhouse from November until mid-May.
This can also help prevent peach leaf curl, a fungal disease that can harm both peaches and nectarines.
Early flowering means they can miss out on the services of bees, so it’s worth pollinating them by hand.
Wait for a sunny day and gently dab the centre of each flower with a soft paintbrush.
Cherries are so rewarding – not only do you get pretty, white blossom in the spring and lots of juicy fruit in the summer, but often they’ll give you good autumn colour, too.
There are various dwarf cherries available. If you’re unsure, look for the rootstock ‘Gisela’ or ‘Colt’.
Give them a sunny spot and a generous-size container (60cm/24in or more), and don’t forget to net them against greedy birds who love them as much as we do!
Put the net over as soon as the fruits start to change from green to red.
Many old cherry varieties need a pollination partner, so make sure when you buy your plant that it’s a self-fertile variety, such as ‘Celeste’, ‘Compact Stella’ or ‘Sunburst’.
It’s also worth noting that different varieties are different colours when they’re ripe – some will be yellow blushed with red, some almost scarlet, and some are near black, so don’t pick them under-ripe or they won’t taste as good!
Available from www. pomonafruits.co.uk and www.ashridgetrees.co.uk.
Suitable for even the tiniest patio, this has to be seen to be believed.
Bred in Europe and sold under the name ‘Lilibarber’, this new, tiny rhubarb grows to just 30cm (12in) high!
Luckily it doesn’t stop producing new stalks in the summer, like most traditional varieties of rhubarb, so you can harvest from spring right through to autumn.
Don’t reach for the custard just yet though.
The stalks are so tiny they need to be considered more of a garnish than a main ingredient.
Apparently they’re delicious simply dipped in sugar and eaten raw.
Available from www.lubera.co.uk.
Top chefs love the unusual flavourings, so why not keep up with the latest trends!
Keep up with the latest cooking from top chefs who seem to be using little-used herbs more and more these days such as cinnamon basil, hyssop, lovage and purslane – once considered common culinary and medicinal herbs in centuries gone by, but now underused.
Once you’ve sown your herb garden, it’ll take a couple of weeks or more until germination.
When it’s time to thin out your seedlings, a good tip is to use these thinnings in your cooking instead of wasting them, or you could pot them on.
Once your plants are of a good size, they may be a little congested, so you can liberate them and transplant them to other pots or beds elsewhere in the garden.
Step by step
1) Using a good multi-purpose compost, fill up an attractive long trough. Mark out three or four even-sized sections for each herb you try.
2) Thinly sow each type of herb in their respective sections and add a thin layer of compost over the top.
3) Remember to label each section, as it’s often difficult to remember what the emerging seedlings look like of each herb.
4) Water in your trough well, but not too much for fear of drowning the seeds. Place in a sunny position.
Enjoy your new little aromatic oasis this summer, and remember to feed them a balanced fertiliser every week or so!
Herbs to try:
- Garlic Chives
The best watercress grows now, and it’s so easy to get this tasty peppery crop on the go, so why not give it a try?
As its name suggests, it’s an aquatic plant species that thrives on being in water or, if grown in compost, being watered very frequently with its soil kept moist at all times.
It’s actually jam-packed with goodness, too, with vitamins K and A for bone and eye health high on the list.
It’s so prolific, and can be grown in all manner of containers – even just a glass of water!
Take a look at our top tips below on cultivation.
Grow it in a pond or bog
Fill a pot with garden soil and sow watercress seed on the surface, keeping it well-watered. When it has germinated, place the pot so the top of it is 5cm below the surface of your pond. It’ll self-seed easily, and may spread to other patches of damp ground.
Root watercress in a cup of water
Watercress trimmings or any packet from the supermarket will be enough to grow some more of it. Place the stem in a glass of water, removing lower leaves so they don’t rot underwater, and the roots will grow. Change the water regularly and pot into compost once grown, watering often.
Other plants that can be rooted in water
Step by step
1) Using a large container, fill it to the top with good multi-purpose compost, and pat down evenly.
2) Sprinkle the fine light brown seed evenly over the surface of the compost.
3) Cover over with a thin layer of Vermiculite – seeds often prefer this than heavy compost.
4) Put your pot into a deep tray and fill it with water, and keep it filled up at all times.