Some plants have got the lot – they look good and do you good. Flo Whitaker recommends planting some handsome vegetables in your flower borders.
Here are reasons why a traditional vegetable garden looks the way it does. Centuries of trial and error has come up with a system that’s hard to beat. Crops grown in neat rows take up less space and are easier to water and harvest, but if there’s no room in your garden for a designated veg plot you can still grow some vegetables. Many have great ornamental qualities and can be mingled through the flower borders to good effect. The yields will be smaller this way, but it’s always fun to grow a few edibles.
Carrots have elegant, border-worthy foliage. The small ball-type varieties don’t require much depth of soil and can also be grown in a container; likewise radishes, which are very quick to crop. Incidentally, radish flowers are beautiful – a few roots left unharvested will produce delicate flowers in gentle mauve and cream shades.
Wigwam supports are quick and easy to make. Use bamboo canes or hazel poles firmly bound at the top with string. Each support needs to be spaced approximately 20 cms from its neighbour and pushed 15cms into the soil (keep that in mind when considering the eventual height of the plants you want to support!). A tall wigwam of French or runner beans makes a bold statement in a border.
The annual climber, Ipomoea lobata, (‘Spanish Flag’) can be combined with runner beans. Vigorous by nature, it will easily keep up with the rapid growth of the bean plants and bears unusual blooms in graduating shades of red/ orange/yellow. Mangetout peas have dainty flowers, are easy to grow and will quickly scramble up a support. Some varieties have snazzy pink or purple pods. Courgettes and squash can be trained up a wigwam or over a trellis arch. Some gardeners actually prefer this method, reckoning the additional airflow makes for less mildew/rot problems. Make sure your supports are sturdy as these plants will become heavy as they start to crop.
Cut-and-come-again lettuce is surely the easiest vegetable of all. It’s best grown in a patio pot where the leaves will remain cleaner. Beetroot seedlings are my latest salady-obsession. You’ll require a seed tray filled with general purpose compost, sharp scissors and a heart of stone, for once you’ve snipped and harvested the cress-like leaves, the seedlings die – but they are so delicious, with the distinctive taste and colour of mature beetroot. They look fabulous scattered over a green salad.
Lettuces and violas aren’t an obvious combination, but make surprisingly companionable bedfellows. Violas enjoy the shade cast by the developing lettuces and if you grow dark-leaved lettuce, really interesting colour combinations may occur. Viola flowers are edible and make a pretty garnish for summer cordials – or a G&T!