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Grow attractive edibles

In his Grow-Your-Own feature Martyn Cox recommends plants that look good and taste great.

vegetables and flowers in mixed border

There was a time when edibles were considered a poor relation to ornamental plants. As a result they were relegated to the bottom of the garden or confined to allotments. Fortunately, times have changed and we no longer hide crops away. In fact, some plants are so attractive they are perfect for adding to beds and borders. Pick vegetables, fruit and herbs that have attractive leaves, stems, flowers or fruit, or boast architectural good looks, and they won’t look out of place alongside perennials, shrubs or other ornamental plants in the garden. One of my favourite showy crops is Swiss chard. Read on and learn how to grow it from seed.

Sow Swiss chard

A crop that looks and taste good, Swiss chard forms statuesque clumps of bolt upright stems in shades of white, yellow, orange, pink, red and purple, topped with huge green or bronze leaves that look like they’ve been polished by hand. Seeds can be sown in a sunny spot outside or in pots, providing pickings over autumn, winter and into spring. Sow seeds thinly along a 2.5cm (1in) deep furrow, cover and water – after germination, thin out seedlings to 30cm (12in) apart. Alternatively, scatter seeds thinly over the surface of a 7.5cm pot and cover with 1in layer of finely sieved compost. Move seedlings into individual pots when large enough to handle.

Swiss chard
Sow Swiss Chard seeds for a late summer crop. Image: Adobe Stock

Protect fruit bushes

There’s nothing worse than spending months watering, feeding and nurturing summer fruit bushes, only to have the delicious berries and currants gobbled up by birds before you’ve had the chance to pick them. To prevent disappointment, protect plants with fine gauge, anti-bird netting. Don’t be tempted to simply drape netting across vulnerable plants as our feathered friends can get tangled up with the material. Instead, build a square structure around them with canes or stakes, fit the netting and peg down to keep it taut. If you have lots of bushes, consider growing them within a dedicated fruit cage.

Slugs and snails

We often take measures to combat slugs and snails in spring, when the shoots of many plants are emerging, but turn a blind eye to them in summer. Well, here’s a word of warning to anyone who thinks they slither away to their lairs when summer starts…they don’t. Both of these pesky gastropods will still be very much around, especially on humid evenings, when they’ll emerge to eat leafy salads, strawberries, tomatoes and just about anything else that takes their fancy.

Choose an organic product to control slugs and snails that really works. Image: RIchard Jackson’s Garden

One way to stop their nocturnal feasting is to use organic slug pellets, such as Richard Jackson Slug & Snail Control, which are made from naturally occurring iron phosphate.  

Tomato leaves

In summer, tomato plants grow rampantly, producing masses of stems and foliage, along with the first trusses carrying tiny fruit. Unfortunately, all of the leafy stuff can be detrimental to fruit swelling and ripening, so it’s a good idea to grab the secateurs and remove a few leaves that are concealing any stalks bearing baby toms.

Remove the leaves that shade ripening tomatoes
Image: Martin Mulchinock

Doing this will help the fruit to reach maturity far sooner by exposing them to sunlight – an added bonus is the flavour will also be enhanced. Another benefit is that airflow will be improved around fruit, reducing the likelihood of diseases getting a foothold.

Edibles for shade

Most edibles prefer a sunny spot but don’t despair if you have a garden that’s shaded by trees, buildings or is north-facing. There are a number of tasty vegetables, herbs and fruit that will still grow when subject to lower light. As far as I’m concerned, mixed salad leaves are a must as they develop rapidly and will not run to seed as fast as when planted in full sun. Chives, coriander and parsley are ideal.

Multi pots of herbs are a great way to grow a variety of plants. Image: Martin Mulchinock

Mint will also romp away – it can be invasive, so grow in a pot or plunge the pot into the soil, with the edge just above the surface. Naturally a woodland plant, alpine strawberries prefer moist, cool, shady conditions.     


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