Picking your own fruit, vegetables and herbs is one of the highlights of the gardening year, but you don’t have to turn your garden into an allotment in order to grow and harvest your own food. There are many ways to grow crops within an ornamental framework, so that your garden – whatever its size – can be a beautiful and productive space.
Add An Edible Hedge
Native edible hedges create valuable habitats for wildlife and provide a range of crops like cherry plums, hazelnuts, sloes, elderberries and rosehips. Even if you don’t have room for a large hedge you can try edging beds and borders with step-over apple trees which will create low boundaries and provide fruit within the first few years.
Rosemary and lavender can be used as edible hedging to give definition to different areas of the garden. My narrow front garden is trisected by a rosemary hedge (Rosmarinus officinalis) to create three distinct gravel planting areas. In the winter the hedge provides evergreen structure and during the summer months, perennials fill the space and the hedge all but disappears beneath a colourful meadow. We use the rosemary leaves in soups, stews, on the barbecue and to garnish homemade chips.
If you like the idea of a low edible hedge with a box-like appearance, you could try growing a myrtle relative – the Chilean guava (Ugni molinae). This evergreen shrub likes a sheltered spot in acid soil and is hardy down to around -10°C . It has small dark green leaves which develop a deep red autumn colour and has deliciously fragrant white bell flowers in summer, followed by small red berries. Not only are the berries one of the tastiest fruits in our garden (they were Queen Victoria’s favourite fruit), they also ripen in October offering fresh flavour at a time when all the other fruit has passed into winter hibernation.
Plant Attractive Crops in Containers
We tend to focus on the productivity and taste of our fruit and vegetables, but many also have ornamental flowers and foliage which can add beauty to a garden. Blueberries thrive in pots and if your soil is alkaline like mine, growing blueberries in containers is a practical way to grow this acid-loving shrub. In addition to their delicious, healthy fruits, blueberries have delicate white flowers in late spring and the foliage turns a rich red in autumn, meaning this is a plant which combines beauty and utility throughout the seasons.
Colourful vegetables like Swiss chard ‘Bright Lights’, purple kohl rabi ‘Kolibri’ and cavolo nero will grow well in containers – you can grow one type repeated in individual contemporary pots for the minimalist look or add them all to one large pot with an underplanting of thyme or edible annual flowers, for a more cottage garden effect.
Grow Edible Annual Flowers
Most annuals are easy to grow and fit well into small spaces in borders, containers and vegetable beds. Nothing looks and tastes better on hot summer days than a fresh salad decorated with edible petals. One of our favourite edible flowers is the nasturtium with its peppery leaves and seed pods which we pickle as an alternative to capers. We grew Nasturtium majus ‘Cream Troika’ last year alongside tumbling tomatoes in hanging baskets – the buttery yellow flowers with red centres trailed lazily over the edges, lasting all through the summer.
English marigold (Calendula officinale) is another easy annual. The flowers range from the vivid orange and yellow ‘Power Daisy Orange/Yellow’ to the muted tones of two of my favourite varieties – ‘Snow Princess’ and ‘Sherbert Fizz’. The petals look appealing in salads, adding a light peppery flavour. Calendula readily self-seeds, so not only will you have edible flowers in the future, but each year brings different colours and shades as the plants readily cross-pollinate.
The author and publisher take no responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Not everyone reacts positively to all edible plants or other plant uses. Seek advice from a professional before using a plant for culinary or medicinal uses.
Nic Wilson is a writer, garden designer and Garden Media Guilds Awards nominee (Best Blog, 2018). She enjoys growing flowers and unusual fruit, vegetables and herbs, and loves to encourage nature into the garden. She also blogs at www.dogwooddays.net