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Food from your garden

By garden designer Catherine Heatherington. For many, food in the garden stops with the barbeque. But what could be more satisfying than picking your own rocket and lettuce, tossing in a dressing and eating on the spot?

Even in a small garden it is possible to grow your own vegetables and herbs without the full-scale commitment of an allotment. Pots and containers of all descriptions can be put to good use. Instead of bedding plants this year why not try a selection of the most exciting-looking vegetables? Ruby chard with its spinach-like leaves looks wonderful when low sunlight shines through the bright red stems. Purple and green lettuces can flop over the edges of wooden planters and the textured deep green-purple leaves of kale, 'Nero di Toscana', contrast with the silver of galvanised containers. Strawberries combined with white marguerites look especially beautiful trailing over terracotta pots and window boxes.

For height runner beans are the obvious choice, climbing up trellis or bamboo wigwams. Their red or white flowers stand out against the soft heart-shaped leaf and there is even a bicoloured variety, 'Painted Lady'. Alternatively, contrast the purple pods of the French bean, 'Climbing Purple' and the non-climbing yellow podded 'Mont d'Or'.

Herbs are a must in every garden and even balconies and roof terraces should have a small space for these aromatic plants. For that Mediterranean atmosphere grow thyme in terracotta pots; 'Golden King' and 'Silver Queen' are two attractive and edible varieties. Blue-green and purple leaved plants such as rosemary and sage look great in trendy, metal containers and rosemary can also be found as a little mopheaded tree for a more formal garden. Place the pots near the eating area so you can crush the leaves and enjoy their scent as you relax.

If you do not want to fill up your patio with pots then try some of the more ornamental vegetables amongst other plants in the garden. Here again ruby chard is great choice, with its big, curly leaves as a contrast to the spiky, thin-leafed crocosmia, for example. Or try the feathery leaves of carrots to soften the edge of a brick path.

More dramatic plants, such as cardoons and globe artichokes with their giant grey leaves and pink thistle-like flower make a great feature and they look especially wonderful with mounds of silver-leafed santolina, lamb's ears or even a deep-purple berberis.

Fennel is another dramatic plant, the leaves thin and feathery forming a semi-transparent screen with flowers like heads of cow parsley. But be warned fennel loves to seed itself and you may have more than you bargained for.

If there is the space, a pergola or arch with courgettes or small squashes growing up it is the ultimate in ornamental vegetable gardening. And for a more formal feature, fan or cordon trained fruit trees on a lovely, old London wall will look good even during the winter period.

Important points to remember when planting vegetables and herbs are that they need to be well fed, well drained and well watered. Both require plenty of sun, another good reason for growing herbs on the patio. When planting in containers ensure there are holes and drainage material in the bottom before adding potting compost.

May is the best time to plant many of these vegetables and herbs, so instead of a trip to the garden centre for the usual busy lizzies and petunias, experiment with a packet of seeds.

By Catherine Heatherington

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