Container Gardening - Growing Your Own Fruit, Vegetables and Flowers in Small Spaces
Would you like to grow your own fruit and vegetables and don't think you have enough room? Think again, here is some advice on growing in containers and small areas.
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The blackberries above are from my garden, the space that they grow in is about 4 inches in depth, it is a long thin trench alongside a fence, it takes up no space whatsoever and it blossoms and bears an amazing amount of fruit every single year. In front of it, taking another few inches of precious room is a row of raspberry bushes which again fruit every year, so much so in fact that I have to freeze a lot of what they produce, make jam and give them away by the bowlful to friends and neighbours. There is something amazingly rewarding about picking these berries just as they ripen and popping them into my mouth as I pass by on my way up and down the garden - and if I can grow things this delicious so can you.
We moved into an Edwardian terrace house a few years ago and learned very quickly that you don't need a lot of space to grow fruit, (not forgetting vegetables and pulses), with so many varieties of food that you can either train to go flat against a wall or fence or that can live and grow and produce happily in containers a patio, courtyard, postage stamp garden or even a balcony will do.
Small Spaces, Big Rewards
Where once I saw walls and fences I now see possibilities for growing wonderful organic fruit, that doesn't mean that you have to do without flowers, in fact growing flowers alongside your fruit-bearing plants means that they will be polinated and produce more.
Trellis fences are perfect for growing vine type plants like the blackberries above, you can wind branches and vinces in and out the struts of the fence providing the plants with support for the ripe fruit crop that it's going to shower you with.
In the photograph to the right you can see an 18 inch in depth strip of walkway that I converted into a planting area which now contains Rhubarb, Raspberries, Blackberries, Tayberries, Gooseberries, Strawberries, Tomatoes, Mint, Sage, Lemon Thyme and Tarragon - all growing together beautifully.
The only problem I have is containing the Mint and the Raspberry plants which want to re-seed and spread around, as you can see this Mint has made it as far as the path but then neighbours can help themselves so no-one seems to mind, however if you don't want this happening you'll need place the Mint in enclosed beds or in a container.
Fan-trained Fruit Trees
You can buy these already trained from your local garden nursery store, where the branches will be spread out flat rather than growing in all directions, if you can imagine a cabbage cut in half then you'll know what I mean, they take up no room whatsoever - this is particularly ideal for stoned-fruits like apples, plums, figs, cherries and apricots - my mouth is watering just thinking about them all. Fan-trained trees need a set of horizontal wires, stapled to the supporting fence or wall for support and you will need to continue pruning the tree to maintain it's shape.
Espelier also available ready-trained from your local nurseries where the branches grow horizontally in parallel layer, this is generally more suitable for apple and pear trees and will again need horizontal wiring for support and pruning as mentioned above.
Why size does matter - root size that is
Rootstock, a plant that already has an established healthy root system is used for grafting fruit trees onto, it is the size of the rootstock that will determine your tree's eventual size so when buying trees ask your local supplier for their advice, tell them that you need 'dwarfing' varieties, e.g. M27 rootstock (yes I know it sounds like a motorway but it's not) will give you a tree height of approximately 1.8 metres, rootstock of the next size up will produce a tree 3 metres in height - see size really does matter.
Our 3-in-1 Apple Tree
One of our ultimate space-saving plants has to be this wonderful apple tree growing at the bottom of our garden although I can take no credit for this addition as it was here when we moved in. What makes this tree so special? It has several varieties of apple all grafted onto one tree, on the left we have wonderful Bramley cooking apples, and then there are two types of eating apples on the other branches, not only does it supply us with apples for most of the Summer and well into the Autumn it provides me with shade as it grows near our pond and over a bench where I like to sit, read and drink tea - perfect peace with perhaps a slight breeze to make the windchime occasionally tinkle and the occasionally splosh of the frogs in the pond.
3 Varieties of Tomatoes
And I've finally got round to potting up the tomato plants that my son and husband brought home for me, yesterday I went out to my local garden centre and bought a grobag, I'm not sure if there are different types for different plants but this one was recommended for growing tomatoes, the right size to hold three plants and therefore just perfect for me. Remember to read the instructions on the grobags, this one recommends that in 6 weeks you add an additional feeding mixture, so that is precisely what I'll do, and I will post another photo later in the season to show you how these little beauties got on.
The middle tomato plant is much bigger than the other two and it is an Italian Plum tomato, I just love those for cooking into sauces, roasting in the oven or eating in salads, or perhaps slicing in half with a light sprinkling of rock salt and devouring - yes I know that salt is bad for me but it tastes so good with freshly picked tomatoes I just can't help myself.
Update: Shortly after planting the tomatoes I was given some more tomato plants, not having another grobag I took a deep container added a load of compost and earth from the garden and planted them. Turns out the ones in the container have produced twice as many tomatoes (and sweeter) than the grobag ones, both the grobag and the container had 2 different varieties of tomatoes but all the container ones produced more - so from my experience I would recommend container planting over grobags - and it's cheaper!
Two new berries making an appearance in our garden this Summer will be the superfruits from America, Blueberries and Cranberries, both of which are ideal for container growing so it doesn't matter how small a space you have available these health-boosters will grow well in containers and they don't need much tending - so if you're new to growing these will be an ideal start for you.
Blueberries are best grown in containers and are a superb all year round attraction, in Spring the bush will be covered in beautiful scented flowers which turn into those glossy little blueberries bursting with flavour and juice, ready to be sprinkled on your cereal, popped into muffins or scattered on top of baked cheesecakes where they just peep through the creamy moist top. And just when you think it's all over the foliage of the blueberry will turn a fiery crimson to brighten up any area through the Autumn months.
Cranberries I love cranberries, I like them in smoothies, the joy of turning them into homemade Cranberry Compote for Christmas holidays, Cranberry Muffins and think of that beautiful colour sitting on your patio or on your balcony. These shrubs are low spreading and evergreen, ideal for growing in confined areas and containers, the one I'll be planting this year is the McFarlin which has large deep red berries.
Note: Both these berries need to be planted using using ericaceous compost and to ensure a bountiful crop be sure to mix the compost with a slow-release fertiliser and re-pot the bushes every second year.
Easy Blackcurrant Sauce Recipe:
Heat 225g / 8oz of blackcurrants with 75g / 3oz of caster sugar in a pan, simmer for 5 minutes until gloopy and syrupy. Pour the sauce into a clean jar (fills a 300g jar) and it will keep in the fridge for up to a week (and you thought this was just a gardening hub).
And since I was planting something from America I decided that I really needed to be showing my support for the homegrown fruits and so I decided upon something quintessentially British that you don't find in every garden - Blackcurrants. These lovely black glossy little currants, are easy to grow, perfect for container growing, they're stuffed full of Vitamin C, but unfortunately inedible without cooking, no picking and eating these straight from the bush. However if I had to choose one jam to take with me on a deserted island it would have to be Blackcurrant Jam, these little beauties make jam-making very easy as they are high in pectin which means that it sets very easily. They also great in pies, cordials, cassis and as a sauce, hot or cold, poured over ice-cream for a quick but stunning dessert.
When .......... to plant or not to plant .... that is the question
The benefit of buying fruit trees and bushes in containers is that you don't have to worry about which month or season you're buying or planting them. However if you are planting them into the ground you should do it towards the end of Summer and during Autumn to give them plenty of time to take root, absorb water and settle before they start to bud in the Spring. But as always if in doubt ask your suppliers who will no doubt be able to advice you on the particular plant that you are purchasing.
I adore having fresh herbs in the garden and can't help but buy herbs when I see new ones I haven't got, the more the merrier. But it's not always a success, last year my beloved Sage decided to die off for no apparent reason and so I have planted a new one which thankfully has taken really well and is happily growing and growing, but not everything in my garden does what I expect it to, just look at the difference between the Sage pictured above and the very poor frail looking French Tarragon on the right, they are both from the same supplier, planted in the same container, same compost, same rain, same me looking after them and yet such a difference in their success, so please don't get disheartened if something fails, plant another variety of the same herb it may take to your soil better, or dig it up, put some more fertiliser and compost in and replant it, it may do nothing this year and then next year it just might reappear and surprise you.
And of course there's always room for flowers......
The Ultimate Source of all knowledge ..............
If I'm ever in doubt about what to plant, what varieties to purchase, recommendations, new practices or in need of advice then my main source for that would be The Royal Horticulural Society (RHS) which I'm sure you will find detailed information and videos on just about everything to do with gardening, their website is linked below.
- The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS)
The Home Page of the website of Britain's gardening charity - the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) - is the gateway to gardening, keeping you up to date with the latest news, advice, events, RHS shows, RHS gardens and membership.
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You can find many trees at local nurseries but if there's something you can't find then perhaps you'll find it on Ebay - last year I bought a Cob Nut Tree from Ebay and we're now waiting on our first harvest.
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