We’re all hoping for another sun-drenched summer this year. But whatever the weather, we can always invoke a feeling of sunnier climes by using a few choice Mediterranean plants in the veg patch. The region’s food may be as varied as its landscapes, but there are specific unifying threads; good olive oil, garlic, and most importantly, an arsenal of intensely fragrant herbs. In this post, you’re going to learn precisely how to grow easy garden crops. This guide also includes lots of advice on how to have happy house plants. Let’s dive right in!
Top easy to grow vegetables, fruit and salad seeds and plants for beginners
- Salad Leaves. Crunchy fresh leaves with a fantastic range of textures and flavours
- Radishes. Spice up your salads with crunchy, peppery radishes
- Spring onions
- Broad beans
- Runner beans
- Onions and garlic
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It’s hard to believe nowadays when it’s such a common garden crop. Still, rhubarb was once so valuable it cost more than exotic spices such as saffron and cinnamon and even drugs such as opium.
Originally a native of Siberia, it was the root, rather than the stems, of Chinese rhubarb that interested early British apothecaries, who used it to treat a variety of internal problems. My mother always said rhubarb “kept you regular”, perhaps not the most glowing recommendation.
I remember as a child being given a saucer of sugar and some stems of raw rhubarb to dip in it, rather like a grow-your-own sherbet dab, a definite improvement on the fig syrup she sometimes spooned into us.
From the 18th century, rhubarb began to be widely grown in Britain and to figure as a kitchen ingredient rather than just in the chemist. The most famous growing area is Yorkshire’s Rhubarb Triangle, where early rhubarb is grown in forcing sheds. But it’s straightforward to grow tasty stems in the garden.
Easy Herbs to Grow in Pots
There are five signature herbs of Mediterranean cooking; thyme, rosemary, oregano, bay and basil. It’s no surprise they all love sunshine, warmth and good drainage, but that’s not to say they won’t thrive in our more variable climate too. Of these five, only basil is frost tender (though admittedly bay is borderline).
Easy Garden Crops
Now’s the time to buy thyme, rosemary, oregano and bay plants. Pot them up in compost mixed with grit to ensure sharp drainage, or find them a home in a well-drained part of the garden (where the soil is light and gritty). Thyme can be grown between paving cracks; there’s nothing more evocative than the scent of crushed thyme underfoot. Sow basil in trays of multi-purpose compost under cover before gradually hardening them off and planting out in containers after the risk of frost has passed. Keep your herbs by the kitchen door for easy access.
Oregano (Origanum Vulgare)
Sometimes called wild marjoram, these pungent leaves are the perfect partner for tomato dishes and pizza. Look out for the sub-species Origanum vulgare hirtum (Greek oregano) for extra flavour. If you can’t find plants, they’re easy to grow from seed. Try Greek oregano seeds.
Bay Trees (Laurus Nobilis)
Buy the largest you can afford; older plants require less cosseting in winter. As a container-grown focal point, they’re hard to beat, especially clipped into a pyramid or standard (lollipop) shape. Choose a sunny, sheltered spot or grow in a container of soil-based compost such as John Innes No 2 with added grit for proper drainage and move it into a greenhouse over winter.
Basil (Ocimum Basilicum)
Sow now under cover but wait until June before moving plants outside and don’t overwater. Choose your most sheltered sunny spot or grow under glass. Compact bush basil (Greek basil) has tiny leaves packing serious flavour. Try “Lettuce Leaf” with huge leaves for tearing into a salad or grinding into pesto.
Rosemary (R. Officinalis)
Pick your variety according to its size and shape, from the erect “Miss Jessopp’s Upright” to a more prostrate rosemary with arching growth, such as “Prostatus”. Check whether it is hardy or fully frost-hardy, depending on where you intend to plant it. Otherwise, they’re remarkably tolerant plants.
A conservatory or frost-free greenhouse offers enough shelter to get these tender plants through the colder months, and they can live outside over the summer; just remember they don’t appreciate temperatures below 7 C (44 F). Even without fruit, their leaves have an intense lemony fragrance that you can harness in the kitchen by wrapping them around grilled fish.
Fig Tree (Ficus)
With their silvery limbs and large shapely leaves, these are beautiful plants. “Brown Turkey” is the most reliable for fruiting outdoors in southern England up to the Midlands. Still, you’ll need to offer it protection to be confident of a crop further north. Fan train them against a sunny wall or grow them as a bush in a pot.
Select a sheltered sunny spot on the patio, planting out after all risk of frost. Feed fortnightly once the first fruits appear, with tomato feed. Water little and often. Choose a Mediterranean variety; “San Marzano”.
Gardening is Officially Good for Mental Health
[bctt tweet=”Just one 30-minute session on the allotment improves self-esteem and general health” username=”dianescorpion”]. It was also found to reduce the effects of depression and fatigue, according to research from the UK Faculty of Public Health.
The new findings support research carried out in the UK in 2017, revealing that soil contains a natural antidepressant; a nonpathogenic bacteria, mirroring the effect on neurons that drugs such as Prozac provide.
It’s all encouraging news as allotment holders start to prepare their plot for the gardening year ahead.
How to Have Happy Houseplants
All roots require oxygen to survive, so always use a pot with drainage. If you have a decorative container, either use a plastic pot inside it (over a layer of pebbles or clay balls designed for such purposes) or drill drainage holes into it using a drill suitable for ceramic tiles.
Make sure soil stays aerated. Compost in pots naturally compacts over time; repotting is an excellent way to keep it fluffy, but in the meantime you can aerate it by taking a chopstick (or similar) and poking holes carefully around the top of the pot, going down as far as you can without damaging the roots and wiggling it around.
Water well. Whatever the plant’s needs are, it is essential to add sufficient moisture that drains out through the bottom. It may then be necessary to ditch the water in the saucer, so the plant doesn’t sit in it.
Watering vs Revival
If you find you cannot keep up with watering a plant, then moving it away from the light source will slow down its growth and reduce the amount of water it needs. This is a good idea if you’re going away for a bit; move plants to slightly shadier conditions, and they’ll need less water and grow more slowly.
If a plant dries out, immerse its pot in a bucket of water. If the compost does not seem to be rewetting quickly enough, add a drop of washing-up liquid to break the surface tension between water and soil so the soil can absorb water quickly. Bubbles will appear as air is pushed out between the soil particles. Once the bubbles stop, take the plant out and allow it to drain.
Create a Winter of Flavours
Grow herbs indoors for taste and goodness
My kitchen is never without fresh herbs growing on the windowsill, especially in winter when any of the ones growing in the garden have died back.
Hardy rosemary and sage will keep going throughout the winter (just outside the back door, most conveniently), but more tender varieties such as parsley, coriander, dill and basil need to be sown and grown indoors during the colder months.
Not only do fresh herbs make the kitchen look more attractive, but they also provide a shot of flavour and nutrients to keep cold-weather chills at bay. They can be sown indoors throughout the year, and by next spring, any that remain indoors can be hardened off and planted in the garden.
I also found a potted coriander on the “please rescue me” stand at our local garden centre. It was looking sad and was incredibly pot bound, but had potential, so I brought it home.
It was hard to remove from its plastic pot (squeezing it soon helped loosen the compost and free the plant). Still, once it was out, I teased out its congested roots, split the coriander in two and potted them up in multi-purpose compost.
Now I have two healthy, mature plants on my windowsill for the price of one and at a good discount; and just in time for supper!
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