014-5 Container Kitchen

How to grow vegetables in pots

Great Dixter gardener cook, Aaron Bertelsen, shares his knowledge of growing edibles in pots in a courtyard kitchen garden. Words Aaron Bertelsen, photographs Andrew Montgomery

Which vegetables can be grown in pots?

The short answer to this question is, anything you like. From delicate, leafy herbs to root vegetables and sturdy fruit trees, there should be no reason why – given a little thought, forward planning and, of course, some tender loving care – you can’t create a varied, productive container garden, whatever the space and the conditions you are working in.

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Flower fennel

If I could grow only one type of thing in my container garden, it would be salad leaves. This also happens to be what I would recommend new gardeners to start with. Salad leaves are easy to grow, make good use of space and generally taste much better than what you can buy in the shops. A couple of 30cm pots of cut-and-come again leaves will give you flavoursome fresh salads for weeks, if not months. I’m convinced home-grown salad leaves are more nutritious, and they also look beautiful. Choose carefully and you will have a pot full of textures and colours to bring you pleasure throughout the year.

Other stars of the kitchen container garden include stalwarts, such as chard and kale, which will keep you in fresh greens all year round; structural plants, such as globe artichokes, that will anchor your display; and true show stoppers, such as peas and the gloriously varied sea kale. You will find that many of them offer tremendous value too. Some, such as chard, will just keep on growing, while others offer several crops for the price of one: think of peas, with their shoots, flowers and juvenile pods, or the delectable tops of broad beans.

Root vegetables may not seem like the most obvious candidates for a container garden, but they can do very well in a confined space, and, of course, you can control the growing conditions in a pot far more easily than in a garden. They are also surprisingly generous crops to grow: a pot of beetroot will give you handfuls of delicious leaves as well as the roots themselves. Root vegetables are well worth growing for aesthetic reasons too: the bright green, frothy foliage of a carrot is a great foil for the dramatic, deep red of beetroot leaves, while parsnips are so good looking that we actually grow them as flowers in the ornamental garden at Great Dixter.