Take your pick! 20 cut flowers & veggies to grow now
Rich pickings what you're after? Here's how to make your garden grow-grow-grow, according to TV gardener and Mr Muddy Devon, Toby Buckland.
FANTASTIC FLOWERS FOR PICKING
Why: Slugs don’t eat them (much).
Choose: The wild one, Digitalis purpurea, which comes in white or purple, or go for something with better breeding, like freckled ‘Pam’s Choice’ or Excelsior Hybrids in bonbon shades.
Remember to: Buy as a plant for flowers this summer, or sow seed now for next. Cut the stem at the base while the flowers at the top are still in bud. Leave a flower stem or two to self-sow for more next year.
Why: The best perfume.
Choose: Long and repeat-flowering varieties, like the David Austin New English roses, such as silver-pink ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ and custard-yellow ‘Graham Stuart Thomas’.
Remember to: Cut your flower just above a bud (the little nobble on the stem) ideally one on that faces out from the middle to keep a nice shaped bush (and who doesn’t want one of those). It also stops those ugly dead bits of stem where you cut.
Why: You can make like Martha Stewart and sprinkle the petals on cakes and posh salads.
Choose: Marmalade-coloured ‘Indian Prince’ or colourful Fiesta seed mixes for ready-made arrangements. Not to be confused with the other marigold, Tagetes which is what you find in naff park displays.
Remember to: Sow seed straight into border, keep watered if it’s dry and when seedlings are small do daily patrols to get rid of slugs and snails until they’re big enough to cope with a bit of nibbling.
Why: Blooms in the second-half of summer when everything else is going brown.
Choose: Condensed milk-coloured ‘Cafe au Lait’, the black velvet Chat Noir if you want to be on trend, or any with ‘Bishop’ in the name for dark foliage and slimmer shapes.
Remember to: Snap up tubers if you spot them in the bulb section of the gardens centre or more likely, as potted plants now. Protect from slugs when small and support stems with bamboo canes when large.
Why: Just. So. Easy.
Choose: I love snow-white ‘Purity’ and the frilly-petalled ‘Picotee’.
Remember to: Scatter seed straight from the packet into watered, weeded soil and water seedlings if dry. Keep picking to keep the flowers coming right until the frosts come along and spoil them.
Why: Nothing like a sunflower to cheer you up.
Choose: Not the tall, single-flowered variety kids grow, but the multi-headed types like ‘Claret’ or ‘Velvet Queen’.
Remember to: Sow direct or five to a 12cm pot, then plant out when it’s less like slug fodder. Take off some of the lower leaves after you pick as they suck out the moisture and make them fade faster. Put the seedhead on the bird table.
Why: The size: you only need three to fill a vase.
Choose: My fave is the smoky ‘Blue Mountain’. Pheasant Acre do delectable Chelsea-flower show winning ones, like mahogany ‘San Siro’ (pictured).
Remember to: Buy as corms (a flat type of bulb), and plant a handful every few weeks to spread out the crops until mid-July for cuttings until September. Plant deeper than it says on the packet, 10cm deep so they don’t need staking and can be left in the ground over winter.
Why: Scent and a lot of flower-power over weeks and weeks.
Choose: For amazing scent but short stems – Lathryus ‘Painted Lady’ or Matucana. For long stems and bigger vases, Spencer varieties and Heritage Mixed. Sarah Raven curates gorgeous sweet pea collections.
Remember to: Grow it up a support, like a trellis or wigwam. Its tendrils will do the climbing so you don’t need to tie it on. Water well if it’s hot and dry, and pick like mad otherwise the plant goes mildewy and stops flowering.
Why: Cottagey but contemporary with flowers that turn into cosmic, interstellar-style pods. Dead easy – you can sow seed direct into soil outdoors, then they self-sow and keep coming back in future years.
Choose: You can get them in blue, white, even a mix of the two but Sarah Raven’s ‘Mulberry Rose’ packs more of pink punch in my book.
Remember to: Leave a few to ripen into papery seed-heads, so you’ve got leftovers for the trendy ‘dead-flower’ look in your vases come autumn.
Why: Still flowering in late summer when most annuals have kicked the bucket, and unlike other zinnia, this acid-green one won’t mind a little shade.
Choose: ‘Envy’ – its green petals are the perfect alternative to foliage and it’s something your mates are unlikely to have. For a sweetie shop look, mix with other colours of zinnia, there are lots to choose from.
Remember to: Be on slug watch when they’re small.
Why: Salsa. Gazpacho. Mozzarella: all the best summer dishes need a tomato. Just add salt.
Choose: ‘Gardener’s Delight’ – it’s the easiest cherry tom, and you don’t need a greenhouse to grow it.
Remember to: Sow seeds in a small pot on a windowsill, then plant out next to a bamboo cane. Cut off branches (not the leaves!) so it grows on a single stem which you tie into the cane with twine. Flowers form between leaves, don’t cut them off as that’s where fruit will form, obvs.
2/Cut and come-again salads
Why: Harvest, eat, repeat (they re-sprout after picking).
Choose: Mustard, rocket, mizuna and salad mixes, such as ‘Nice ‘n Spicy’ Mix which is just like the plastic-bagged blend you buy at the supermarket but much better value. If you’re feeling really lazy, buy baby plants.
Remember to: Sprinkle seed in a block, in watered, weeded soil or in a 20cm pot in a sunny place now. In the heat of summer dappled shade is better. Harvest with scissors and leave the bottom buds to bounce back.
Why: Loadsa crops – they don’t hold back.
Remember to: Avoid leaves when watering which turns plants white with mildew and slows them down.
Why: Like peas but far quicker.
Remember to: Push a row of tall sticks, the twiggier the better, in the soil and sow a generous double row of seeds/peas 2cm apart either side. Keep watered and pick the pods just as peas start to show inside.
Why: The taste of fine dining *sobs*.
Remember to: Sow in orderly rows in a nice sunny spot, with seed 12cm apart, remember to water and have I mentioned picking? Don’t forget, now. So snappy with vitality you can eat them raw.
Why: Fills an empty space fast and kids love ’em.
Choose: Spaghetti types, (useful for when you run out of that stockpiled pasta) easier to grow than butternut and better to cook with as the spaghetti-like flesh is brilliant for sponging up sauces. Kuri is good for summer soups and so dinky you can grow it on a frame.
Remember to: Sow seeds on their side in a pot and plant out when the frosts have finished at the end of May. Allow 1m and a half per plant. Cut off the leaves close to the fruits to let sunshine in to ripen the gourds.
Why: For delicious wilted greens AND you’ll be picking from plants sown now this time next year, right through winter.
Choose: Rainbow types for brilliant beds.
Why: You’ve never tasted anything like these home-grown babies.
Choose: ‘Nantes’ types because they’re fast and you can pick when small or leave to mature.
Remember to: Sow sparingly: better to leave a few cm between each seed as thinning seedlings out attracts a root-eating fly. Pick when you just see them tops swelling above the soil.
Why: So you can scoop it off the BBQ and say, “I grew it myself you know.”
Choose: ‘Swift’ – it’s a sweetie, and really reliable.
Remember to: Sow seed direct in a sunny place, 20cm apart, not in a row but in a square block (eg 5×5 plants) to pollinate the plants. If mice are a problem sow in pots first (or get a cat).
Why: Saves splashing out on the pricey bundles in stores, and it’s perennial meaning once you’ve got it, it’s a forever plant.
Choose: ‘Pacific Purple’, so succulent it’s almost pre-buttered – but do slather with lots of butter and a sprinkle of salt before serving.
Remember to: Make sure you plant roots in weed-free ground. It’s almost impossible to weed once delicate stems are growing.
First published spring 2020, updated April 2021.