Potted vegetables give garden portable color

Posted March 26, 2010, at 5:46 p.m.

Marjorie and I pulled our rockers close to the fire on Sunday evening and browsed garden catalogs and Web sites, making a list of veggie varieties for containers. She had a talk to prepare and I was helping, keeping up to date on the newest varieties while whetting my appetite for the coming season.

I do this every year, extend the vegetable garden into the perennial bed and up the porch steps, prop pots on rocks and rotting stumps, any level place in full sun. In late October, scrubbing caked potting soil and algae from pots while my socks absorb frigid water dripping from a leaky hose, I vow to never do it again — but I do, every year buying another pot or two.

Potted vegetables become portable color in the garden. A large container filled with a mix of ruby red and green lettuces, for example, is a feast for the eyes as well as the table. You can achieve this with Ruby and Emerald Duet (Renee’s Garden, RG), a seed mix of an emerald-green butterhead lettuce and a ruby-red lettuce with ruffled leaves.

The Cook’s Garden (CG) offers an eggplant variety designed for containers, India Paint, its small 4-inch fruits painted with neon purple and white streaks. Not fond of eggplant, I would still grow this variety just for its unique color pattern.

Other compact eggplants for containers include Little Prince (RG) with glossy 3- to 4-inch purple fruits; Calliope (Johnny’s Selected Seeds, JSS), an Indian-style eggplant with oval fruits, white-skinned with purple streaks; and Fairy Tale (JSS) with elongated fruits colored purple streaked with white.

Stem color in new varieties of Swiss chard is extraordinary: Flamingo (CG) with hot pink stalks and big bright green leaves; Pot of Gold (RG) with beautiful golden stalks; Bright Lights (JSS) with stems of gold, pink, orange, purple, red, and white; and Magenta Sunset (JSS) with narrow pink stems and pink-veined baby leaves.

Pepper varieties offer a rainbow of fruit colors reflected in names such as Golden Baby Bell (CG) and Sweet Chocolate (JSS), or in their catalog descriptions. Mini Salad Baby Belle (RG) produces bite-size red and yellow sweet bell peppers with a crunchy texture and Lipsweet (JSS) bears heavy dark green fruits that ripen to a glossy rich red.

Determinate tomato varieties growable in pots include Balcony (CG), only 24 inches tall, with small ruby-red fruits; Bushsteak (CG), 24- to 30-inch plants that produce large 8- to 12-ounce fruits; Sweet Olive (JSS) with bite-size, oval-shaped tomatoes; and Smarty (JSS) with small fruits on medium-sized plants that can be grown without support.

Containers of bright green basil make excellent foils for the potted veggies mentioned above. Pistou (CG) basil plants grow only one foot tall with tiny leaves that require no chopping, perfect for soups and pasta dishes. Cameo (RG) is an Italian basil with closely packed, big leaves and a compact 6-8 inch habit, ideal for pots and window boxes.

Last season we grew our best basil in pots on the porch, away from the ravenous slugs. Basil plants in the garden were stripped of their leaves by the slimy pests.

For a bolder foliage effect, pot up Iznik cucumber (CG), a small vining plant the produces lunchbox cukes best picked when 3 to 4 inches long. Grow it in a large pot with a small bamboo trellis for easier harvest.

If you are new to container gardening, know this: like children and pets, potted plants are demanding. You can’t go on vacation without a sitter. On the other hand, they extend your time in the garden, always a good thing.

Our collection of pots numbers in the dozens now, containers of all sizes and shapes. My favorites were gifts, a large pot painted with dragonflies, a smaller pot with a cardinal. Placing each in just the right spot is an important ritual of the garden season.

Sources:

CC: The Cooks Garden catalogue, www.cooksgarden.com, 1-800-457-9703

RG: Renee’s Garden on-line catalogue, www.reneesgarden.com, 1-888-880-7228

JSS: Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalogue, www.Johnnyseeds.com, 1-877-564-6697

Send queries to Gardening Questions, P.O. Box 418, Ellsworth 04605, or to rmanley@shead.org. Include name, address and telephone number.

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