I adore a good walled kitchen garden. I find it soothing to walk along endless rows of lush vegetables surrounded by weed-free soil, edged with fragrant herbs or apple espaliers.
There’s something about the abundance of edible crops and their aesthetic arrangement that appeals to both my design and culinary interests.
The kitchen garden at Thornbridge hall
And while I’m strolling along the gravel paths, I’ll be making mental notes for my own garden on new crops to add and how to achieve similarly exuberant planting.
The scope of my ambition is enthusiastic, limitless even – then on my return, I realise it’s now May, and all I have left to sow in is a rag-tag collection of last year’s containers and the small section of raised bed not yet occupied by strawberries, potatoes and the children’s newly planted flower garden.
But all is not lost! May is the perfect time to sow many crops - now the soil is warm, seeds germinate quickly and grow apace. And with more and more vegetables being developed to thrive in containers, a lack of space is not a barrier to growing a wide range of delicious fresh vegetables this summer.
Like this Swiss chard 'bright lights'
We start our planning with a focus on the foods we most enjoy eating as a family – what vegetables and salad crops will we want to add to our lunches and dinners all through the growing season? Then we look for the tastiest varieties with the highest yields and sowing can begin.
Both peas and beans germinate within a few days of planting and will grow on strongly in containers or the ground. We sow in pots initially to avoid the danger of slug damage if the weather turns wet and then plant out or grow in large containers (at least 45cm).
Climbing beans and peas will need supports erected before they are planted out and can be paired with ornamental (non-edible) climbers like black-eyed Susan or morning glory.
Dwarf beans work well in containers and can be attractive in shades of yellow, green and purple. My favourites are ‘Purple Teepee’ and ‘Polka’.
Peas also have ornamental value in containers, especially if you choose a variety with delicate purple flowers like ‘Blauschokker’ or ‘Shiraz’.
Whether you are growing dwarf beans or climbing beans and peas, ensure that pots are kept well-watered, especially in hot weather, and you’ll be harvesting until the first frosts.
Salad crops can be quickly and successfully grown in containers. We like to grow salad leaf mixes that combine spicy leaves like red giant mustard, mizuna and rocket.
Sow radish and spring onions in the same container for a crop within a few weeks. Herbs can also be included – try sowing chives, basil and coriander, and then add a colourful twist with edible flowers like calendula, borage and nasturtiums that also grow well from May sowings.
Find out more about other kinds of edible flowers you can grow here:
Cucumbers, squashes and courgettes also suit containers. Choose a large pot – 45cm or larger is ideal – and water frequently as they are thirsty plants.
‘Venus’ and ‘Gold Rush’ are excellent compact varieties and we also grow ‘La Diva’ cucumber, tromboncino (a delicious climbing squash that we train up the fence) and ‘Uchiki Kuri’ squash in containers.
The beauty of May sowings is the speed with which the tiny seedlings develop into fully grown vegetables ready for picking. And although my container kitchen garden might not have the scope and grandeur of a vast walled garden, it’s vibrant, productive and just outside the backdoor providing food for the family – and that’s good enough for us.