By Dorothy Dobbie
In my garden on the patio and around the pool, there are three or four dozen containers, most large, a few small.
Peeping out from between the bright yellow pansies in a terra cotta pot is the brilliant green of curly parsley. Mixed in the big barrel along with the pink petunias and a cup and saucer vine is a burgeoning tomato plant with green and yellow globes of fruit shining enticingly in the shadows. Dripping down the side of a white urn, ‘Blue Morn’ petunias, harbour the glistening fruit of ‘Black Pearl’ pepper. Bee teasing, mauve blossoms of garlic chives have taken over the strawberry pot and sweet basil sends up dizzying fumes beside a bronze coleus. My container garden is a happy mix of flowers and edibles — it just seems the natural thing to do.
But it is practical, too. In cities, where space is at a premium and beauty is a necessity to calm the stresses of everyday living, we need to be ingenious in order to “grow our own”.
Potatoes in pots
Ingenuity was certainly behind the clever concept of T & T Seeds owner, Kevin Twomey, when he started growing potatoes in bags and pots. He starts with a large container and just enough soil to cover the bottom layer of seed potatoes. Then when the plants get to a certain height, he strips off the lower leaves and adds another layer of soil, in effect, “hilling” the spuds as you would in a garden to increase the crop He keeps doing this until the roots have reached to the top of the container.
“I get about five pounds of potatoes from each pot,” he announced gleefully. He uses the same method to plant potatoes in bags which could be hung from a sunny balcony wall. Kevin recommends the smaller potatoes for this purpose. Make a hole in the side of the bag and add in a few bedding plants (petunias and nicotiana are from the same family as are both tomatoes and potatoes) and the potted plantation is practical and pretty.
Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, carrots, even cucumbers are happy in pots. Scarlet runner beans carry brilliant red blooms on twining vines until they set seed, offering up a harvest of delicious or ornamental produce, depending on the way you see the world. Many of these common vegetables have pretty foliage – think of the lovely ‘Bright Lights’ spinach, with its multicoloured stems and corrugated foliage, or ‘Bull’s Blood’ beets, which have deep burgundy leaves. The gorgeous striped fruits of ‘Fairy Tale’ eggplant are only two to four ounces each on a two-foot plant, just one of the new dwarf varieties of vegetables that are perfect for the container garden.
Keep bees coming
Plant your edibles with old-fashioned annuals to keep bees coming and to improve the overall health of your crop. Bachelor’s buttons, poppies, dianthus sweet alyssum, cosmos, marigolds, petunias, pansies are reliable bloomers and don’t take up too much pot space. Add some trailers such as nasturtium, dichondra, or plectranthus to dress up the sides of the container.
Don’t stop at vegetables and herbs. You can also enjoy some small fruits. Strawberries, grown in hanging baskets, can be paired with Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ or some other flower that will take centre stage when the strawberries are done.
The light soil, high acid conditions needed for growing blueberries can be controlled in a container planting in places where high clay content soil is a problem. Low bush varieties such as ‘Northblue’ and ‘Northcountry’ have large fruit, which ripens by mid-July. After harvesting, the attractive two-foot shrub with its glossy green leaves can be left to turn brilliant red in fall.
The only limit to planting vegetables in your flower gardens or containers is your imagination and inclination – plus the size of your containers. Be adventurous and you can have peas among the sweet peas, carrots between the coreopsis and melons mingled with the morning glories . . . .
Dorothy Dobbie publishes Manitoba Gardner magazine (204-940-2700 or localgardener.net for subscriptions) and broadcasts a weekly radio show on Nostalgia Radio 93.7FM on Sunday mornings at 8:00.