Toms and trailers

29 April 2016

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THE garden centres are brimming with plants urging us to plant up our hanging baskets. Productive plants such as tomatoes can be just as ornamental in a display if you pick the right varieties, and, of course, give you an edible harvest. “Tumbling Tom”, in a mix of its red- and yellow-fruited forms, can be quite showy, and the fruit flavourful.

If your outdoor tomatoes have been afflicted with blight in the past, then best go for a variety with some resistance to the fungal disease. “Losetto” would be my first choice: it provided me with a heavy crop from a pot last year. A compact chilli cultivar can look lovely in a basket. “Numex Twilight” has small conical peppers that ripen from purple to yellow to orange to red.

Or the main feature plants could be a type of bean. The climbing French bean “Borlotto Firetongue” will soon twine around the basket’s bracket and beyond. The dwarf French bean “Purple Teepee” is more biddable, and, if you prefer runner beans, there is a dwarf cultivar, “Hestia”, that has orange and white flowers.

For a reliable harvest, baskets should be hung in a sunny sheltered spot. To counter their tendency to dry out quickly, choose containers at least 30 cm in diameter, consider buying types with a built-in reservoir, and mix water-retaining granules into the compost.

Which compost to choose? It can be surprisingly significant in terms of the vigour of the crop. Melcourt SylvaGrow Growing Medium was rated outstanding this spring by Gardening Which? Peat-free, it is made of composted pine, broad-leaved tree bark, and some coir.

Plants will still need feeding over the summer. Use a liquid feed such as Westland Gro-Sure Super Enriched All Purpose Plant Food (also a Which? best buy), or add slow-release fertiliser granules to the compost at planting time.

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Hanging baskets are more interesting if they contain more than one type of plant with contrasting foliage/flower shapes and colour. This could follow the edible theme. I championed parsley as an ornamental plant last month; it would certainly work in a basket, as would chives, and even fennel, if kept clipped back.

Mint can be invasive in the open ground, so it suits container culture. There are many types. For wafts of scent on the patio as you brush past, try eau de cologne, basil, orange, or chocolate mint. Tender herbs are just getting into their summer stride now: basil as, opposed to basil mint, comes in its own range of nuanced fragrances — Thai, lemon, and lime, to name three. Lemongrass is a lesser-known herb worthy of wider cultivation.

For added impact, you can add a couple of non-edible, more traditional flowering plants to your kitchen basket. Or how about the edible and ornamental fuchsia berry? In fact, most bedding fuchsias develop edible berries, but Thompson and Morgan have bred a particularly heavy-yielding strain that promises up to 300 juicy berries per plant, rich in vitamin C and with a flavour somewhere between fig and kiwi. It is time to think beyond begonias.

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