Make this summer the season your containers earn their keep. Even with limited space you can have a display that collectively delivers colour, fragrance, fruit and flowers as well as a steady stream of delicious salad supplies. Just as you might grow cabbages among the roses or shoehorn a lettuce or three between the hydrangeas, plant fruit and veg cheek by jowl with flower and foliage.
© Gap Photos/Friedrich Strauss
This year the garden centres are stocking almost as many ready-to-go veg plants as bedding; exploit the city’s microclimate by seeking out tender peppers, aubergines and tomatoes, both bush and trailing, and give them the warmest, sunniest spot on patio, terrace or balcony.
Look for large aubergine plants that already show gorgeous lilac flowers and even glossy purple fruits among the mauve-tinted foliage. Just one will make a handsome central feature in a large terracotta pot or trough; keep the company tasteful with the cool blues and purples of Verbena Homestead Purple and trailing lobelia, or buy a cell tray of burgundy and lime frilly lettuces and plant them sparingly around the aubergine; they will soon froth into one another, and you need only harvest the leaves to keep the display in check.
Chilli plants provide brilliant daubs of yellow, green and scarlet, as well as provide the kitchen with plenty of Mexican heat. Mix them up with equally fiery-tinted Tagetes marigolds, their rich gold flecked with ruby markings, and mauve-flowered decorative sages such as Salvia farinacea Victoria.
Make an aromatic pizza pot by planting a scarlet bush tomato in the top of a terracotta strawberry planter, and settling green and purple basil and woolly oregano into the side pockets.
© Gap Photos/Freidrich Strauss
Buy a pair of U-shaped bamboo canes — 4ft high is best — and push them into a large pot of compost so one hooks over the other, at right angles. Now you have the perfect climbing frame for baby cucumbers such as delicious, crunchy Diva; you will not believe how quickly they will clamber up and over the frame. Nasturtiums would be ideal to cover bare patches of bare compost in your cucumber container, and add a peppery addition to salads. Shake out each picked flower to make sure the blackfly hasn’t got there first.
Plant other edible flowers, too: a few fuzzy-stemmed sprays of blue borage add a light touch, and the flowers can be frozen in ice cubes or tossed into Pimm’s; a cell tray or two of violas will seemingly last forever, make great fillers as well as main players, and their flowers look pretty strewn over salads.
Keep space, too, for a few seed-sown containers, such as cut-and-come again salad leaves in a galvanised bucket (find them for £5 at Asda, and punch drainage holes in the bottom), or an old wine or fruit crate sown with burgundy Giant Red Mustard, that will add some horseradish-style spice to your salads.
© Gap Photos/Friedrich Strauss
If you can protect them over winter, dwarf peach trees make a great centrepiece and the fruits taste better than any you could buy. Flatter them with an underskirt of apricot diascia and deep pink calibrachoa, the baby petunia.
Buy a small, standard vine and give it partners of lavender, thyme and cascading rosemary. Kumquats, like plump baby oranges, taste beautifully bittersweet and team well with the orange and scarlet flowerheads of Lantana camara, the big bee attractant, as well as cherry-red tobacco flower.
Strawberries look wonderful mixed with flowers in windowboxes, where slugs and snails are less likely to reach. Or make a study in scarlet by ranging small pots of strawberries with same-size pots of ivy-leaved trailing pelargoniums on a three-tier plant stand; simply sumptuous.