Edible gardens for time-poor Londoners

Flowers are being pushed aside for salad leaves and cocktail kiwis as Londoners take to growing their own.
The Edible Garden Show: 2-for-1 ticket offer
The show runs from Friday March 27 to Sunday March 29, from 9.30am to 4.30pm, Sunday to 4pm, at Alexandra Palace. Tickets £16 on the door, £12 in advance. Homes & Property readers can buy two tickets for one, or a family ticket (two adults, two children) for Sunday for £20 — visit theediblegardenshow.co.uk or call 0844 338 8001 and quote code HPMUM.


Seed sales for fruit and veg have outstripped those for ornamental plants. It seems we all want a piece of the good life, and it has never been easier to achieve.

Time-poor townies — and those who want quick results — can buy packs of baby plant veg from garden centres, ranging from Little Gem lettuce and beetroot to mangetout and petits pois, each in an individual cell, ready to be pushed out and planted either in pots or the ground. You can even buy readyto-grow rocket and radish, although these are so simple to grow from seed it is hardly worth it.

Wild rocket Dragon's Tongue, from chilternseeds.co.uk, has unique red veining, while radish French Breakfast, widely available, is the one to sow for the quickest crops. The salad leaf I would never be without — and am never without, because it self-seeds — is Red Giant mustard, a chestnut-brown leaf which packs a spicy punch redolent of roast beef and horseradish, as well as adding vibrancy to the salad bowl. You can get the seeds from sarahraven.com.

The prettiest addition to salads, though, has to be Twinkle, a small, sunny yellow, scallop-edged squash that, picked when less than two inches across, tastes great raw and substitutes for courgettes when steamed. Plants from marshalls.co.uk.

Perpetual spinach, widely available, is a permanent resident in my veg plot because it grows through the year — so long as you keep cutting, it keeps on coming. Gourmets insist it is not as good as true spinach, but I disagree.

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(Above left) The heritage variety crimson-flowered broad bean has beautiful blossom (Image: Gap Photos/Gary Smith). Right, Rondo carrots are ideally suited to a container as they do not need a long root run

Carrots can be tricky to grow in clay or stony soil but are perfect for pots because compost gives them an easy root run. In a trough or window box, sow a round carrot, such as Parmex or Rondo. In a deep container or in the ground, try Mokum, a bunching carrot with a sweet flavour and narrow core that makes it great for juicing. All at thompson-morgan.com.

It is amazing how, whatever weather the summer brings, cucumber plants deliver — outdoors. I never attempted them because I thought they were strictly glasshouse, but variety Passandra, supplied as young plants by marshalls-seeds.co.uk, reliably produces crunchy, flavourful fruits that will put you off supermarket cucumbers forever. Plant one at each base of a U-shaped bamboo cane. The plants trail and can be tied in as they grow to shimmy up one side and down the other, displaying egg yolk-yellow blooms like small courgette flowers.

Sometimes, however, the old veg varieties cannot be improved upon, notably the crimson-flowered broad bean, a heritage variety that has the most beautiful, deep garnet blossom, which glows rosy pink when the sun hits, and is followed by delicious beans; from Thompson & Morgan. The plants need supporting, but will happily grow in a bucket.

If you have never grown so much as a lettuce leaf and don't know where to start, visit The Edible Garden Show, London's grow-your-own event, at Alexandra Palace this weekend. This is the place to learn from the experts, buy the seeds, watch cookery demos and check out the veg trugs — ideal if you just have a patio. Pippa Greenwood, who sends out quality gardenready veg plants (pippagreenwood.com), will explain how to grow edibles throughout the year, as well as give advice on pests and diseases.

Naomi Schillinger, founder of an Islington community project encouraging neighbours to plant edibles in their front gardens, will show how to have a mini kitchen plot in window box or wine crate. And James Wong — find his Homegrown Revolution Seeds at suttons.co.uk — will advise how to make your tomatoes twice as sweet with half the work, as well as give the lowdown on growing gourmet crops, from cocktail kiwis and crocus saffron to trailing cucamelons and fiery wasabi.

The Edible Garden Show runs from Friday March 27 to Sunday March 29, from 9.30am to 4.30pm, Sunday to 4pm, at Alexandra Palace. Tickets £16 on the door, £12 in advance. Homes & Property readers can buy two tickets for one, or a family ticket (two adults, two children) for Sunday for £20 — visit theediblegardenshow.co.uk or call 0844 338 8001 and quote code HPMUM.

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