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Ask Alfie

Q. We’ve just moved into a fairly typical town house sized garden, about 20m by 6m. There’s not much in the borders and we’d like it to be a productive edible garden. Can we do this and at the same time make it attractive with lots of colour and interest? We’re busy people and realistically won’t have time to grow vegetables.

A. You certainly can and it’s a very enjoyable challenge to undertake. Let’s make some assumptions; firstly that the garden is not too shady and secondly that most of the garden is well drained. Next we’ll choose perennial plants which will last from year to year (and often get more productive with time) and finally we’ll allow culinary herbs into the scheme. There are many possibilities so here are a few pointers, none of which are difficult to grow or require too much TLC.

Starting with a largish space in a sunny position why not try a Fig for very striking foliage. To fruit well (and probably to restrain its growth a little) it’s best to restrict root growth by planting in a pot in the ground. “Brown Turkey” is a well known, reliable and readily available variety. A carefully chosen Apple variety will give both a welcome flowering performance in spring and a good visual impact from the fruit. “Gala” and “Sunrise” are both good lookers and should be available even from non-specialist suppliers. If we broaden the brief to Crab Apples there are some real all-rounders with great blossom, stunning looking fruit and autumn colour. Malus Profusion for example has crimson tinted foliage, prolific wine red flowers and deep red fruits.

Blueberries are a must for your edible garden. “Top Hat” and “Nelson” are two of many available varieties. They are very attractive plants with interesting flowers, (not dissimilar to Pieris) sometimes with good autumn colour and of course the fruit itself looks (and tastes) fab. They are often most productive when planted in groups and prefer an ericaceous soil to thrive.

Strawberries may not immediately spring to mind as the most exciting plants to look at, but the flowers are pleasing enough, and they make a good ground cover when happy. What’s not to like visually about a crop of ripening strawberries, except you won’t have very long to enjoy them before you have to pick them!

Herbs will also provide an input of variety and colour. Rosemary is evergreen and has a good long flowering period. Sage has purple, golden and muliticolored foliage varieties. Thymes come in numerous guises and make excellent ground covers in well drained soils, and Bronze Fennel has a yellow flower which contrasts perfectly with its tall dark feathery foliage. To bring in some evergreen structure and a touch of formality if you wish, you’re allowed to plant Bay; Laurus nobilis, available in Cones, Pyramids, Lollipops and other shapes. And finally Chives has a terrific purple flower, which is good enough for the garden even if you don’t snip the foliage to mix with your cottage cheese.

Twitter: @alfiebin1

About Alfie Bines (24 Articles)
I have been tending the gardens of North London for longer than I care to remember accumulating a huge amount of horticultural knowledge along the way.