Mark Diacono: How to grow your own kitchen garden - Telegraph
Choose plants that pack a punch
There is something very pleasing about growing your own food, and you can enhance every meal you eat with only five or six potted plants by the back door.
I call plants that are small in volume and large in flavour “transformers” for their ability to boost flavour in cooking.
Herbs, garlic and chillis are good examples.
My favourite transformer plants include Szechuan pepper, which has an amazing, powerful flavour;
Carolina allspice, the bark of which can be ground and dusted over pork or porridge;
and borage, which has a cucumber flavour that is great in cocktails or Pimm’s, but also perks up a salad.
Beat the supermarket
For me, growing foods that taste different from supermarket versions is important.
Asparagus, peas, sweetcorn, berries and baby carrots lose their quality quickly from the moment they are harvested.
If you grow these yourself you’ll find flavour that comes only from being home grown – the difference is remarkable.
The other beauty of growing your own is that you can seek out varieties that are hard to find in shops.
Jerusalem artichokes, Babington’s leeks, boysenberries, golden raspberries, International Kidney potatoes and Sungold tomatoes are all things I want in my garden that you seldom find in shops.
Plant in any place
Even if the only space you have is a balcony or a windowsill you can still grow your own food.
In many cases a plant will do as well in a pot of compost as it would in swaths of land.
The basis of all pots should be good-quality, peat-free compost, in which you should plant a rewarding perennial, such as a chilli plant, that can produce many fruits.
Or mix some grit into the compost and plant a satisfying Mediterranean herb, such as oregano or marjoram.
If you have small space in a sunny spot, buy a dwarf fruit tree; apricot, peach, apple and plum trees are among many possibilities.
A dwarf tree will grow to about 120cm tall, requires little pruning and can produce dozens of tasty fruits, plus great satisfaction.
Think about your harvest
I suspect most people have better things to do than tend a reluctant plant every day in exchange for a tiny harvest.
Choose plants that have a repeated harvest, where the more you pick the more you get.
Lettuce and salad leaves will quickly re-sprout if you cut them off 5cm from the soil.
Other easy foods to grow include courgettes, which are famously overproductive if you have the space, and perennial herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and mint.
Legumes, such as peas and beans, may be the most productive of them all.
Productive plants often need time and precision invested in the early growing stages, but then they will thrive with minimal intervention.
Make small successes
My advice to beginners is start small.
Choose a few plants that have a quick return.
Radishes, pea shoots, chives and micro-leaves are among the fastest to move from seed to plate.
Avoid types that take a long time to harvest, such as cabbages, as they will be in the ground for most of the year.
The rest is relatively simple: read up, talk to other gardeners and buy your seeds and plants from independent nurseries (I rate Pennard Plants) rather than DIY stores.
“The New Kitchen Garden” by Mark Diacono is available now (Saltyard Books, £25)