A-Z of vegetables
Artichokes need a width of roughly 70cm to grow in per plant and grow to 120cm tall. They are one of the more common perennials to be cultivated in the UK. Plan a permanent space for them in planting in the garden or raised bed and a deep, large pot if they are to be container-grown.
Asparagus are another common perennial which need permanent placing in the garden, or a large container 45cm deep. Several can go in the same pot, with 20cm between each plant. They grow to 120cm tall. Asparagus secretes a substance from its roots that kills Trichodorus, a nematode which attacks tomato roots, so it’s a good idea to plant the two in the same bed or container.
Asparagus peas, or winged beans as they are also known, are members of the pea family but with a taste similar to asparagus. They grow to 60cm tall and need roughly 15cm between plants. They’ll do fine in a small or medium pot 15cm deep.
Aubergines need a medium sized pot at least 30cm wide and 20cm deep. They need lots of sun, so this is not something you can grow on a north-facing balcony. They’ll do best on a sunny window ledge or in a south-facing patio or garden.
Broad beans need a lot of space and are best suited to raised beds. If you do grow them in containers, allow a depth of 20cm and an area of 4ocm per plant.
Runner beans and French beans grow well in containers and because they are climbers are a great use of vertical space. Grow several of them in containers at least 20cm deep, and allow 20cm between plants.
Dwarf beans grow well in small containers 15cm deep.
Beetroot grows well in a medium size pot, 20cm deep and allowing 10cm between plants.
Broccoli really needs to grow in a raised bed, as it needs so much space and is very slow growing. If you do want to give container-growing it a go, allow a depth of 25cm and a width of 50cm per plant at the very least. It’s highly susceptible to attack from the cabbage white butterfly and so be prepared to put in a lot of work picking off eggs and caterpillars from its leaves. I’ve grown broccoli in a pot once and although it was the best I’ve ever tasted, I wouldn’t do it again purely because of the space and time it takes.
Cabbage and Cauliflower come with similar problems to Broccoli, and need highly fertile Nitrogen-rich soil to ensure leafy growth, so you may end up using all your compost on them. Again, give them a go if you’re passionate, but until I have a big garden, I’d rather use my limited space for something else.
Carrots grow well in containers provided you give them enough depth. You can get small carrots, such as ‘Chantenay’, which only need 20cm or so, while the longer ‘Lisse de Meaux’ will need 30cm. Choose a pot at least 30cm wide to plant a decent amount, as each carrot will need at least 3cm to itself.
Chard is easy to grow in containers. Allow a depth of 20cm, and a width of 30cm.
Courgettes and Squash need full sun and rich soil, so they’ll use up a lot of your compost. They can be grown in containers, but don’t bother with trailing varieties such as ‘Tromboncino’ in small spaces as you’ll be left with no room to grow anything else. Choose a compact variety like ‘Black Beauty’ or ‘Defender’, which will grow well in a pot 25cm deep and 40cm across. Similarly, winter squash take up a lot of space and are slow-growing, so in a small space they will prevent you from planting lots of other crops that you could be eating throughout the year.
Cucumbers, like courgettes, are either trailing or bush. Grow bush varieties in containers 25cm deep and 60cm across. ‘Crystal Apple’ is a good trailing variety for growing in a raised bed.
Chicory grows well in containers 20cm deep and allowing 20cm across per plant.
Fennel can be grown in containers, allowing 20cm between plants and a depth of 20cm. It grows up to 30cm.
Garlic needs a minimum depth of 20cm and allow 4cm between plants. It can grow to 60cm high.
Kohlrabi is an increasingly popular brassica – it’s quick-growing and low-maintenance. Grow in a container 15cm deep and allow 15cm between plants.
Leeks vary greatly in size so choose a medium sized variety like ‘Prenora’ for large containers or the miniature ‘Edison’ for small spaces. They’ll need at least 20cm of soil depth and allow 5cm between plants. Leeks are very slow to grow, taking over 7 months to mature, so they take some commitment!
Lettuce is the ultimate small space crop, as you can grow it in absolutely anything, and it needs very little depth. You can grow it year-round and it’s quick to mature, so with good organisation you can have a continuous supply. There are so many different varieties to choose from, but favourites include ‘Brune d’Hiver’, ‘Tom Thumb’ and ‘Feuille de Chene’. To maximise space, use it to fill the gaps in pots where your tomatoes, beans, beetroot, radishes and sunflowers are growing, rather than giving it its own container (intercropping).
Onions are best suited to raised beds, but spring onions grow well in containers and can either be grown on their own, or grown as an intercrop in a depth of 15cm.
Peas grow well in containers but you’ll need several plants to get a high yield. It’s worth planting a few anyway, as they are a good use of vertical space, you can plant lettuces at the base of the plants, and fresh raw peas are delicious. Allow a depth of 15cm and space your pea plants 8 cm apart.
Potatoes are one of my favourite crops to grow – there’s something magical about digging them up like buried treasure. You can grow these in containers, but need a depth of 50cm or so. A few tyres stacked one on top of the other is ideal – or a large black bin with holes drilled in the bottom works well too. Potatoes are frequently affected by blight – keep them well away from tomatoes as they will quickly pass on the disease.
Radishes are the easiest and quickest vegetable to grow, being ready to eat three weeks after sowing at the height of the summer. They make a good intercrop, need only 10cm of soil depth and can handle being grown in light shade.
Spinach is another quick-growing crop. Grow in containers 20cm deep.
Tomatoes are ideal for container growing. They will do well indoors on a sunny window ledge or outside in a sunny spot. They are either cordon or bush – you probably want a bush variety in a container 20cm deep and 20 to 30cm wide. Use the space at the base of the plant to grow lettuce, radishes or basil. You can also grow tomatoes upside down in hanging containers if you want to save valuable ground space! This website has the details.
Turnips grow well in containers, if you choose a small, fast-growing variety like ‘Snowball’. They need a depth of 20cm, and allow 10cm between plants.
A-Z of fruit (I have excluded species such as melons and figs which, although can be grown in the UK, benefit from greenhouses and other equipment that the majority of us don’t have. The species below can be grown without the use of special equipment and do well in containers).
Apples grow well in containers – choose a dwarfing variety in a pot at least 40cm deep. If you do have a garden, you could also grow an apple trained as a fan or espalier, that is, along a wall or fence so it doesn’t need to take up any space at all.
Blackberries are too vigorous for containers, so are best suited to a small garden.
Cherries have similar requirements to apples. Choose a sunny site for them!
Currants (red, white and black) are suitable for containers and can be grown in a north or east facing spot, so are perfect for those of us who aren’t blessed with a south-facing garden. Choose a container 30cm deep.
Grapes don’t grow well in containers as they have rampant roots that don’t like being restricted. You can grow them in a small garden, by providing them with a structure, pergola or trellis to climb over. Choose a variety like ‘black Hamburg’ which can handle colder climates.
Pears aren’t very suited to containers as they can’t be grown on dwarfing rootstock. If you do try it, choose a container at least 60cm deep. You can of course also train them as an espalier in a small garden.
Plums grow well in containers on dwarfing rootstocks such as ‘Pixy’. Choose a container 50cm deep and place in a south-facing position. An issue with plums is that they flower early in the season, and so the flowers can be damaged by frost, hindering your chances of getting any fruit.
Raspberries can be grown in containers (50cm deep), but choose an autumn fruiting variety such as ‘Autumn Bliss’, which don’t need supporting and take up less space. They also fruit on this season’s wood, so can be cut down to ground level after fruiting, as opposed to summer fruiting varieties, which fruit on the previous season’s growth and so take up lots of space without being productive for much of the year.
Strawberries are ideal for small spaces and containers, and don’t need very deep soil (20cm is plenty).
A-Z of herbs and edible/useful flowers (all of these are suitable for containers – in fact, several, such as mint, are better suited to containers than raised beds because they are so vigorous that they can quickly colonise an area)
Basil can be grown indoors in full sun, or outdoors if it’s a hot, dry summer. Use a pot with a minimum depth of 7cm.
Borage needs a outdoor container 20cm deep, and can grow to 90cm so not one for the kitchen window sill!
Chamomile, Chives and Coriander can be grown indoors or outdoors, in small pots 7cm deep.
Comfrey is one of the most useful plants to grow purely for the health of the rest of your plants – it’s known as an dynamic accumulator – it essentially can turn poor soil into fertile soil. It is so rich in nutrients that it’s worth growing just to compost it or to use the leaves as mulch. It’s very vigorous, so ideal for a large container.
Dill can grow to 90cm tall, and needs a minimum container depth of 25cm.
Lavender grows well in containers 20cm deep.
Lemon Balm, like mint, can quickly become invasive, so only plant in containers. Allow 20cm depth.
Lovage grows very tall (up to 1m50cm), so best for outside, in a container at least 25cm deep.
Marigold, although not edible, are incredibly useful companion flowers. They can be grown in small pots 7cm deep but are most useful sharing the space of your other crops.
Mint is invasive and should be kept in containers 25cm deep.
Nasturtium can handle poor soil, and little of it, so they’ll grow happily in depths of 15cm. They are vigorous, so will quickly take up a lot of space, unless you keep cutting them back.
Parsley grows well inside and outdoors in containers 20cm deep.
Rosemary grows in an outdoor container 25cm deep.
Sage needs to be cut regularly when grown in containers as it will get very big. Grow in containers 20cm deep.
Sweet Cicely grows very tall, so best for outside, in containers 20cm deep.
Tarragon can be grow inside and outdoors (and in this country, should always be brought inside in the winter). It can grow to 90cm and needs a soil depth of 25cm.
Thyme can be grown in small containers 20cm deep.
Winter Savory is similar in taste to thyme, and can be grown in small containers 20cm deep.