With limited space, Londoners need to be selective about which edibles to grow. Is it worth, for instance, growing potatoes in a pot? Yes, if it’s a deep, built-for-purpose planter and you choose a special variety such as chestnut-tasting Anya or yellow-fleshed Charlotte, both delicious simply steamed, hot or cold. I always find space for a few tubers of never-fail French salad potato Belle de Fontenay. Order now for early chitting in eggboxes.
Samphire is the must-have accompaniment to fish dishes — just sow the seeds on to moist, well-drained seed compost in a container, and water with a little salt added to the can for that authentic scavenged-from-the-seashore taste.
What is a power smoothie without a generous helping of kale? It’s tricky to cram large, frilly leaves into a juicer, but you can have finger-size kale shoots all year if you sow seeds in a windowsill tray. Kale Redbor is the frilly, plummy-coloured hybrid that produces over months, but superfoodies will be keen to try new diminutive Kale Curly Scarlet, a decorative burgundy-tinged kale that is suitable for containers.
This year I am going to try growing peppery watercress, which, according to Sarah Raven, does not need running water for a successful crop, and can be harvested in early spring and autumn, when edibles are thinner on the ground. If you want full-on heat from a leaf, however, try the wasabi rocket, which has all the fire of sushi’s root wasabi in an easier-to-grow salad form.
Tumbling tomatoes are a breeze to grow in pots or hanging baskets, but tomato aficionados will want to try the large, stripey-skinned crimson Noire de Crimée, said to taste as good as it looks. This Russian beauty will need an early start from seed, but you can buy a pack of two seedlings plus three of orange Sungold, the small tomato with the so-sweet taste, making a great duo. Last year’s top seller Indigo Rose, the black tomato with a sweet, smoky flavour and high levels of good-for-you antioxidants, is available this year as a potted plant grown on a super-strong Turbo rootstock, for extra va-va-voom.
Courgettes are simple to get going, but need high levels of sunshine to keep on producing. Weather pessimists should try variety British Summertime, which has been especially bred in the UK to set fruit early, and holds the RHS Award of Garden Merit. For versatility, sow a few seeds of courgette Piccolo, which has cute rounded, striped fruits that, used small, are great for kebabs. Grow them larger to split and grill, or leave them longer for baby marrows which are perfect for stuffing.
Raising radishes from seed is child’s play, and I always grow crisp, never-fail French Breakfast 3, which is just the right long, slim shape for dipping into butter and salt. You can sow it as seed, or, easier yet, lay down a ready-sown seed tape. If you’re the kind of impatient gardener who pulls radishes before they’re ready, sow Sangria radish microleaves on a windowsill grow-tray, because you can harvest these in a matter of days. For later in the season, Mantanghong is a British-bred version of the Chinese radish which, left to tennis ball size, can be sliced into salads and stir fries, and has novel inside-out colouring of red flesh, white skin. Peas are easy-peasy too, but if you have little space, consider cold-tolerant Half Pint Pea, which is happy in trough or trug.
Said to crop through the frosts, Satelit is the prolific dwarf stringless French bean for small spaces and Robin Hood is the broad bean for patio pots, although if you have space in the ground, do try Crimson Flowered broad bean, as decorative as it is delicious.
Serious growers of chilli peppers can choose their heat level, measured in units, from Hungarian Hot Wax (faintly tongue-tingling) through to Bhut Jolokia Fiery Furnace (you have been warned). New pepper Padron’s small fruits are mild, but about one in 10 is fiendishly hot, proving that growing your own is never predictable, but always fun.