For most of us living in developed countries, producing our own food has become a pleasant pastime and an opportunity for healthy exercise, rather than a matter of survival. While we are fortunate that we can take a fairly relaxed attitude towards vegetable production, there is nothing quite like eating home-grown food, such as fruit, vegetables and herbs, and there is also pleasure to be had in the rituals and requirements of the orchard and vegetable plot.
If you have a reasonably sized garden— large enough to divide off a section for a kitchen garden — growing vegetables in the ground is the most practical way to yield them, and much of the fruit. But for those with less space, it is still possible to enjoy freshly grown home produce.
Vegetables that are hungry for space such as potatoes and cabbages may lose out to flowers. But if you are content with smaller vegetables such as lettuces, carrots, beetroot and dwarf beans, and have room to be able to relegate tall climbing beans and expansive plants like globe artichokes to the mixed or herbaceous border at the back of the garden, it is quite practical to grow a range of vegetables even where space is restricted.
Selecting Vegetables to Plant
Grow a whole range of vegetables, from lettuces to peas, in containers like window boxes and growing bags. Even potatoes can be harvested from pots and growing bags and tomatoes of all types have been grown with great success in growing bags. This kind of small-scale vegetable gardening is, unfortunately, demanding, and the yields always very modest for the effort involved, but if the ideas of harvesting your own fresh vegetables just before you pop them into the pot appeals, you may find it worth the effort.
Fruit trees and bushes are often ornamental and can be happily and easily integrated into the flower garden. Trained fruit trees like espalier and fan apples look attractive even with bare branches in winter.
Herbs are much more easily accommodated than vegetables. Many are highly ornamental and lots of them make good container plants. Others look perfectly in place in a border. To ensure your herbs are made a feature of, include it in the original garden design.
There are dwarf versions of all the most popular varieties and some grow well in pots. Recently, some of the soft fruits have become available as standards and look wonderful.
Herbs are a particularly good choice for the area close to the house, such as a patio or courtyard, for a number of reasons. Most herbs are used in the kitchen during cooking, so it makes sense to have them close by for easy collection, even in the rain. Placing herbs near the house also means that their wonderful fragrance can be appreciated to the full as it wafts in through the open windows, so the patio or courtyard is the ideal place.
Many of the most popular herbs have their origins in the countries of the Mediterranean region, and need a warm, dry position in which to flourish. If the garden does not have these conditions, the answer is to grow them in containers, handily placed near the kitchen door, where the drainage is good and they can be moved around to make the most of the available light. Herbs arc a boon for the area where you plan to be sitting and eating alfresco, because some of them have excellent properties as insect repellents, pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) keeps ants away, basil discourages flies and scented plants such as lavender and rosemary deter mosquitoes.
Planting a Herb Box
- Cover the base of a wooden box with a layer of broken pots or coarse gravel to improve drainage, followed by a covering of compost (soil mix).
- Arrange the herb plants inside the trough and place a small amount of compost around the base of each plant, to hold them in position.
- Fill the trough with compost until it is level with the rim. Firm it gently around the plants. Water the trough, to settle the compost and remove any air-pockets around the plants’ roots. Cover the surface of the compost with a layer of coarse gravel to act as mulch.