Garden Feature

Summer Planting

It’s not too late to plant or tidy up your outdoor space this summer, whatever its size, says Lori Reich from Shute Fruit and Produce in Bishopsteignton

Lori Reich
1 July 2014

Have you been inspired by the latest edition of the Allotment Challenge? Is your window box looking decidedly seedy? It’s never too late to make that outdoor room of your house, the patio or balcony, an oasis of luxuriant green. Even at the height of summer there are plenty of quick fixes to help turn your back garden, barbecue area, or sunny corner into an extension of the house. And the best bit is, it doesn’t need to cost much.

Bob Flowerdew, organic gardener and regular panelist on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time, gives some typically down-to-earth advice for any new planting you are considering: “It must either smell fantastic or be edible. Better if you get both at once, and if you can help your local wildlife population at the same time you are surely onto a winner.”

No matter what you end up planting, there are a few tips to make gardening stress-free. Whatever container you are using, put a few pebbles or broken clay pot pieces at the bottom for drainage. Fill the container with compost (preferably peat-free or John Innes No. 3) before planting up. Finally, remember to water, preferably rain water from your water butt, but recycled grey water from the house works too. When watering, it is better to give a container a good soaking regularly, say once or twice a week, than a dribble every day. 

If you only have a window box to play with, why not plant up a few kitchen herbs to transform your cooking into a more fragrant meal? Plant a few of the sun-loving culinary herbs: chives, parsley, sage and variegated thyme for colour. More adventurous cooks might try summer savoury, salad burnet and chervil.

If you are a fan of pesto, why not plant up the whole window box with three varieties of basil, such as red rubin for colour, lemon basil for the gourmet in the kitchen, and a summer-long variety that resists flowering and will linger until the frosts attack. Being able to pick a few leaves off any of these for adding to tomato salads or garnishing spaghetti sauce will freshen up the flavour, even if it comes from a jar. 

Plant a raised bed with spinach or perilla, a tasty and useful Japanese green. Both can be used in salads for summer barbecues or cooked as greens later when chill autumn winds start to blow. 

Better still, a year-round favourite is chard. If you harvest by cutting off only the outer leaves, these plants will continue to provide meals throughout the year, giving great value for minimal effort. The ‘bright lights’ variety has stems in a rainbow of colours including sunny yellow, deep wine red, pearly white and delicate pink, all topped with a crinkly green or sometimes red burnished leaf. Related to beetroot, and with a similar sweet taste, they can be substituted for spinach in most recipes. They look great anywhere, including in flower arrangements!

Got a large plant pot to fill? Before planting, put some casters on the bottom so you can roll it around to get the best light or winter protection. Use the container for a statement plant such as a shapely topiary box, large swishy grasses, or even globe artichoke. Go bananas with a tropical banana tree – you may never get the fruit, but it is fun to try. 

Put together a collection of pots and plant them up with some winter bedding, such as colourful easy-care pansies or violas. The ‘pots’ can be items such as an old bucket, a large olive oil tin or a pair of old wellies. These make great places to grow a few late-season carrots such as ‘Nantes Fruhbund’ or ‘Adelaide’. 

If you have a veg patch or allotment there is still plenty to do. Put in another row of French or runner beans to see you through to the first frost. It is also a good time to plant spring cabbages, Brussel sprouts and purple sprouting broccoli, or put a red-tinted cabbage among the summer bedding. You could tuck a few radishes into a blank spot - the variety ‘Amethyst’ is not only beautiful to look at, but tasty too.

It is never too early to think Christmas when gardening. Select a flavourful variety of new potatoes such as ‘Maris Bard’ or ‘Charlotte’. Roll down the sides of a large, heavy-duty, dark-coloured bag. Put in a thick layer of compost and plant out a handful of spuds. Water as necessary and as the plants grow, unroll the bag and top up the compost, repeating when needed. On Christmas morning have a rummage through your sack, rather than Father Christmas’s, for treats in the shape of earthy new potatoes to be served up with the turkey and sprouts.

Thanks to Chris Seagon from Laurel Farm Herbs and Edibles, David Baldwin and Chris Hunt.

When watering, it is better to give a container a good soaking regularly, say once or twice a week, than a dribble every day

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