By Sasha Ivanova at London Plantology
There are many ways to grow berries in small spaces – wild strawberries in window boxes, a vertical wall of cranberries, dwarf raspberries in hanging baskets or blueberries in pots on the patio. Plant your containers now and you’ll get heavenly fragrance throughout the summer and a wonderful harvest with which to make delicious jams and cordials to last throughout the winter!
I started my berry garden by propagating alpine (aka woodland) strawberries from seed. The seeds germinated quickly and easily in the spring and by the end of July I had a few plants growing in the window boxes. Their compact growing habit and shallow roots make woodland strawberries ideal for containers and hanging baskets.
I love these little hard working plants. They always look cheerful and flower non-stop, even in winter! The berries are smaller than common garden strawberries but they’re packed with flavour and fragrance. On a hot day, a few freshly picked berries create an incredible aroma in your hands.
Grower’s tip: sprinkle alpine strawberry seeds on top of compost and don’t cover with soil as they need light to germinate. A bright windowsill is perfect.
For a vertical edible garden, try new varieties of climbing strawberries. Strawberry “Mount Everest” and strawberry “Skyline” produce up to 1m long runners which can be trained on trellis or a pea netting.
The visual effect of a green wall dotted with shiny red berries is stunning and the scent of strawberries in summer is delightful. With luck, slugs and snails will be too lazy to climb “Mount Everest” to get their pickings!
Climbing strawberries are also a great addition to patios and front gardens. They can be planted in ‘Tower Pots’ (pots with a supportive frame) and trained into living vertical columns. Place Tower Pots strategically around your patio to create unusual focal points. They draw the eye making small spaces look more spacious, and you’ll have the added benefit of eating freshly picked berries when they’re ripe!
Blueberries & cranberries
Growing blueberries and cranberries is easier than you might think. Given the right soil conditions, both will supply delicious berries year after year. Acid-loving plants, they will perform best if the soil pH is less than 5.
The easiest way to ensure a correct pH level is to grow blueberries and cranberries in pots filled with an ericaceous compost mixed with bark. Bark mulch will help to retain moisture in containers, needed for the plant’s shallow root system.
Bluecrop and Pink Lemonade are my favourite blueberry varieties. Bluecrop is a compact bush, suitable for containers, and has large bell-shaped cream flowers in the spring, blue-purple berries packed with antioxidants in the summer and colourful leaves in the autumn. Pink Lemonade is the first pink blueberry! A truly unique variety with delicate pink flowers and sweet rose-pink berries – it’s loved by kids for its delicious sweet flavour and by grown-ups for its amazing appearance.
Both varieties are self-fertile but having two or more plants will improve pollination and your harvest.
I also grow Pilgrim cranberries, or rather they are spreading everywhere on a pilgrimage across my garden. I planted them last spring under pine trees but they quickly became overrun with weeds. The creeping cinquefoil weed intertwined with the crawling cranberries became impossible to bear, so this season I am experimenting with a new method.
I’m now planting cranberries in three hanging baskets positioned one below the other to create a cascading effect. Cranberries send out runners which I will be rooting in the baskets lower down to propagate new upright plants. Flowers and fruit are produced on upright plants so it is worth rooting as many new shoots as possible for a good yield.
An added bonus is that the glowing red berries look amazing in the late autumn when all other colours have almost disappeared from the garden.
Grower’s tip: Water blueberries and cranberries with rainwater to help maintain the acidity of the soil.
Dwarf raspberries & blackberries
When I got my own small London garden, my dream was to plant a few raspberry and blackberry canes, but I did have some doubts. Large thorny bushes spreading across the middle of the lawn wasn’t very appealing! However, with new fruit varieties available, it’s easy to grow your own berries even without a garden.
Trailing raspberries and blackberries are a perfect choice for hanging baskets and require less maintenance than flowers. They look wonderful hanging on the patio, balcony or by the front door, and you can pick delicious home-grown berries on your way in from work! For an interesting colour mix, try pink raspberry “Ruby Falls” and dark blackberry “Black Cascade”.
Dwarf varieties like blackberry “Opal” and raspberry “Ruby Beauty” reach only 1m height and are good for growing in large containers. Their flowers attract honey bees and bumblebees and their bushy habit ensures a bumper harvest. An extra bonus of the trailing and dwarf varieties are the thornless stems!
Have you tried growing berries in your garden or allotment? How did it go, and what are your favourites? Have you discovered any productive varieties or dwarf plants suitable for small spaces? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
About the author
Sasha Ivanova is an urban gardener, blogger, and martial artist. Passionate about propagation and growing from seed, she grows all her plants in a small London back yard. Her research has led her to cultivate unusual edible plants, as well as experimenting with fruit trees in what she describes as a ‘garden without trees’. Read more at her blog, londonplantology.com
No garden? No allotment? No problem. You can grow plenty of vegetable varieties in containers. Follow our 4 steps to successful vegetable gardening in containers.
As our so-called spring gets under way, we’re noticing that one of this season’s hot trends is growing vegetables in containers. Like many other aspects of our lives, this is all about maximising time, space and effort. Well aware of the health benefits, many of us are keen to grow our own vegetables, but are time poor, so we’re looking at ways to make things easier. Lots of people don’t have a huge garden or allotment, so growing in containers, whether flowers or vegetables, seems to be the way forward.
Here’s some advice on how to get the most out of your container vegetable patch so that you can enjoy that ‘fresh-from-the-garden’ taste even if you only have a small patio, balcony or roof terrace. Use these tips as your next step to fresh and delicious – and convenient – vegetables
1. Soil – Starting your seeds and plants in good soil is really important. If you’re using containers and pots that you used last year, remember that it’s fine to reuse the soil as long as you give it a bit of a boost of nutrients with compost and fertiliser. You should try to avoid growing plants from the same family in the same soil as last year – it’s the same theory as the crop rotation principles that farmers work to. If you’re just starting your container veg growing experience this season, then you can’t go wrong with our incredicompost® which has been independently trialled and verified as the best overall compost for raising seeds and young plants. Using this, along with our incredicrop® fertiliser, will go a long way to giving your vegetable plants the growing environment they need to produce really good crops of tasty and nutritional vegetables.
2. Sun – It’s important to consider how much sun your patio/balcony/roof terrace gets when choosing which vegetables to grow in containers. Plants that you will pick fruit from, such as tomatoes, need a good dose of sunshine – 6 to 8 hours a day – whilst vegetables that you pull out of the ground need approx. 4-6 hours. Leafy greens can manage on just 3 to 4 hours. Don’t panic if your outdoor space isn’t graced with non-stop sunshine – plenty of edible crops will thrive in partial sun and you’ll still get a good crop. Just be mindful of keeping your plants watered and fed, especially if they ARE in full sun.
3. Size – It’s worth considering the size of your container when you come to sowing your vegetable seeds and planting your vegetable plants. Think about it – for some plants, you’ll need deeper pots, planters or tubs – it’s not rocket science. As a guide, for shallow-rooted vegetables, such as radishes, lettuce and other leafy vegetables, and herbs, you’ll need about 20-30cm (9-12in) of depth in your container. For medium-rooted plants, you’ll need 30-35cm (12-14in) depth and for larger plants, such as tomatoes and potatoes, you’ll need 40-45cm (16-18in) depth. Of course, there are many options when it comes to buying containers for growing vegetables – there’s a huge choice of patio planting bags which have the benefit of being easy to move and position, as well as being reusable, and they’re easy to fold down and store when you don’t need them. Have a look at our brilliant VegTrugs™ which are just perfect for growing vegetables in!
4. Selection – Most edible vegetable plants can be grown in containers, but these days there are many varieties which have been especially developed to grow in pots and containers. These varieties will be more compact – meaning that they won’t get too big – and easier to harvest. See below for some of our container variety suggestions.
Start your shopping list here:
TomTato® – amazing variety from Thompson & Morgan’s own breeding – tomatoes and potatoes on the same plant!
Egg & Chips® – aubergines and potatoes on the same plant! More brilliant breeding from T&M!
Courgette ‘Black Forest’ – this unique climbing courgette is a great space-saving container variety
Tomato ‘Bajaja’ (tomato seeds) – great tomato variety for growing in containers and it doesn’t require side-shooting. Try Tomato ‘Balconi Yellow’ if you prefer your tomatoes yellow – this variety makes a lovely colourful feature on the patio or balcony – and the tomatoes are very sweet and tasty too.
For another decorative and productive vegetable plant, go for the superb dwarf Runner Bean ‘Hestia’ or another dwarf bean, French Bean ‘Mascotte’.
Other varieties for container cultivation are radish, carrots, beetroot and salad leaves. And of course, many potato varieties can be very successfully grown in containers or potato growing bags
With the launch of the new Oxford Hanley range of pots on our website, we thought we’d share our 6 secrets to successful container gardening with you.
Pots and planters are often a great choice for those who perhaps haven’t got a large garden, or for gardeners who like to keep their plants closer to home where they can enjoy them, on a patio or decking area.
Gardening in pots has lots of benefits – no real digging is required; large containers mean less bending and kneeling and they add mobility to your floral displays – but there are a few pitfalls that can make things tricky.
Here are 6 secrets to getting the best out of your pots and planters.
- The first secret to container gardening is to make sure that you use fresh soil or compost in your pots and planters. If you’re planting up one of last year’s containers, just have a think about how long you’ve been growing plants in it because after a year or so of use, the soil or compost will be pretty much depleted of the nutrients that are essential to keeping your plants strong and healthy. Try our incredicompost® which has been independently trialled and verified as the best overall compost for sowing seeds and raising young plants. We also won silver in the 2016 Grow Your Own magazine’s annual Great British Growing Awards in the category Most Effective Composting Product for our incredicompost® – so you can be sure it’s the best start for your plants!
- The next secret is to make sure that the pots and containers that you’re using are clean inside. What might look like harmless traces of last year’s soil could harbour harmful diseases and pests that could adversely affect your plants’ health. You can wash out your pots with a mild dishwashing detergent – but not one containing bleach or any herbal essences – and then let them air dry. Have a look at our wide range of pots and planters – from the contemporary style of the Oxford Hanley range to the more traditional Wenlock planters or the elegant Bee Hive Planters – we’ve got a huge choice to offer you.
- Be sure to choose a pot or planter that will be big enough for your plants once they reach maturity. All too often we pot up plants in containers that will be outgrown in no time at all which creates problems for the roots and the plant becomes pot-bound. You’ll notice that we offer a number of pot ranges which include pots of various sizes – Oxford Hanley and our Antique planters both have a number of sizes to choose from, so you should be able to find the right size container for each plant.
- Talking of plants getting pot bound brings us on to our 4th point: if you’re potting on a plant or relocating a plant that you’d prefer in another site, it may well be verging on pot bound if it isn’t already. If this is the case, be sure to ‘prune’ back the root system before planting it up again. To prune the roots, think of them like the branches of any plant and simply thin them out. This will give your plant the best chance when it comes to settling into its new location. Use our handy snips to gently trim the roots before repotting.
- Once you’ve planted your chosen plants into pots, planters or containers, you’ll need to fill them up with loose soil or compost. People often think that once the plant is in the container that the soil should then be really pressed down firmly around the plant stem. In fact, it’s better to leave the soil or compost quite ‘loose’ and then to water gently, but thoroughly, just until the water drains from the bottom of the container. This helps the soil to bed in nicely around the roots whilst leaving the top soil loose enough to not constrict the growth of your plant.
- Allowing for good air circulation and drainage is key to success in container gardening. We recommend perching your pots and other containers on bricks or blocks and not to use trays or saucers unless you are going to be away for a few days. Unless you’re going away for the weekend, it’s best not to leave your plants standing in water – plants will ‘suffocate’ if they stand in water for too long. The ideal solution is to invest in some self-watering patio pots.
These are just perfect for gardeners who sometimes like to get away for the weekend, but who want to keep their plants watered. They’re also a great idea for lazy or forgetful gardeners who don’t always water their plants as much as they should! They have a nifty wick which delivers just the water that the plant needs from the built-in reservoir.
So there you have it! Some top tips for container gardening success this summer. We’d love to see how you get on, so why not send us a photo of your favourite colourful container? Send your pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org or post them on our Facebook page – use #shareyourgarden. We look forward to seeing your gardening endeavours! Don’t forget! If we use one of your photos in our catalogue or on our website, you’ll be rewarded with Thompson & Morgan vouchers!
Look here for more information and advice on growing plants in containers.
If you ever visited one of our Open Weekend’s you’ll know you’ll be in for a treat at the new Thompson & Morgan garden. Sadly due to the large number of visitors the event attracted, it could no longer be held at the our site. However, we are so excited to have teamed up with Jimmy’s Farm to be able to once again open its trial gardens to their customers and gardening public.
Over a thousand containers (Tower Pots™, Flower Pouches™, Patio Pots and Easy Fill Hanging Baskets ) and several large trial beds will show off customer favourites, key introductions for 2016 and experimental varieties being trialled for garden performance. You will be asked to highlight your favourite varieties and will have the chance to win prizes for sending in selfie shots with the plant that catches your eye the most.
The garden adds an injection of vibrant colour to a host of other free attractions at the farm including rare breed animals, top class restaurant and butchery, as well as craft and gift stores. Take a look at the farm map.
Farm owner Jimmy Doherty said: “The Thompson & Morgan garden just cannot be missed… literally! Our latest attraction has added a generous dose of colour to the farm, and allows us to offer gardener’s a sneak preview of some incredible new plants for gardens. Marvel at the wall of colour too, clothed in Thompson & Morgan’s innovative Flower Pouches™, showing that fences don’t have to stay dull and brown! Visit as soon as you can for a day of inspiration and, of course, the opportunity to take some great selfies!”
You can keep up to date on the latest information about the Thompson & Morgan Garden at Jimmy’s Farm by following us on Facebook and Twitter with #TMopengarden.
Entry to the garden is free. Visit Jimmy’s Farm for more information on admission fees and directions.
It is amazing what a difference you can make to any outdoor space with pots and baskets, regardless of whether you have a garden or not. I personally fill my patio full of different planters and baskets as the summer arrives and I have spent the last few months nurturing seedlings ready to plant out.
I am a firm believer that if you don’t have enough space to grow things in the ground then pots and baskets are a great way to bring any type of plant into your garden. I want to talk about how you can make your pots and baskets interesting, pretty and productive.
There are lots of different planter sizes, shapes and colours to choose from on the market, so you can pretty much buy the pots to suit your outdoor area. Don’t forget there are variations for windows if you don’t have a yard or patio area or if you live in a flat, and of course you can go for hanging baskets by your front or back doors. If money is tight why not make your own pots and planters out of old pallets which look great painted up and most companies are happy to give away pallets for free. I also like to use builders rubble buckets which come in some really funky colours, and they are a fraction of the price of bespoke planters (don’t forget to add drainage hole).
I like to plant my baskets and tubs with a striking mixture of flowers and veg plants (there is no reason why a tub should look glum). In my summer pots this year I will be growing lots of different veg including baby sweetcorn, dwarf beans, beetroots, salads and courgettes. The varieties I choose are all small so will grow quite well together in a large pot or container, and the leaf structures and varying growing habits really complement each other. In order to add plenty of colours to my pots I love to interplant flowers such as dwarf sweet peas, aubrietia, violas, nasturtiums and much more.
There is nothing better than picking fresh tomatoes so I will be growing some tumbling toms in my baskets, alongside, rocket, nasturtiums, violas and basil. The nasturtiums will trail, the violas provide colour and the basil, rocket and tomatoes will be handy to pick for the salad plate (chives and spring onions also make a nice alternative or strawberry plants and mint for a sweet treat). Where possible I like to use flowers that are edible. My baskets are always colourful and useful, and different plants can be used to brighten up any wall.
When planting up either tubs or baskets you have to be mindful that they need watering and feeding regularly. In my pots I use a good quality multipurpose compost with some slow release fertiliser and water retaining crystals to help hold in moisture. I have never gone for any of those fancy composts unless I am planting something on a more permanent basis such as a shrub or fruit bush. If you can get down to your local farm for some well rotted horse manure this will always enrich any tub.
There are a number of innovative pots and baskets that now have water canals built into them so this takes the strain off watering, but ordinarily I would water baskets daily regardless of weather and tubs every few days unless the weather is hot and then it would be every day. I find the best thing to keep food in pots is a tomato feed which contains all the right nutrients for flowers and fruits, however in recent years I have also made comfrey tea which has had great results and is free so double bonus.
So now I am at the point where my baskets and tubs are planned out and I have started to plant them up. It is still a little early for them to be put outside in Manchester as the threat of frost is not gone until the end of May. Until they are ready to be safely put outside keep them in a cool shed or greenhouse over night.
As your plants grow and develop keep an eye out for pests and diseases such as aphids as they do like to feast on the succulent young plants. I find the best thing to use to get rid of most pests is a garlic spray or a weak solution of water and washing up liquid so no need to spend lots of money on expensive chemicals and these won’t hurt the bees and lady birds.
I will bring you updates on my baskets throughout the summer and let you see the yields they have produced at the end of July and August.
Just remember you can grow anything in pots and most dwarf varieties in baskets, but be mindful that you need to water religiously and keep the food levels up as they get exhausted quickly. Keep an eye on them, keep them deadheaded and you will have lovely colour and tasty treats all summer long.