What to grow

Where space is at a premium, grow high-yielding fruit and vegetables that get the most out of every scrap of soil by cropping quickly or consistently over a long period. Watch for dwarf and bush varieties, bred to take up less room and often to grow well in containers. Use pots and grow bags and fill them with attractive varieties for a colorful display.

• Bush tomatoes – Great in hanging baskets, these can produce sweet cherry fruit for most of the summer.

• Bush beans – Many types of beans are available as bush varieties that yield heavily in a tiny space.

• Herbs – Both perennials and annuals deserve space for their long picking seasons and good looks.

• Salad greens – Cut-and-come-again salads, like arugula and mizuna, will regrow three times in summer.

• Blueberries – These compact bushes thrive in pots; their berries ripen gradually for picking right through late summer.

Strawberries – They look pretty in pots or at the edge of a border. Plant both Junebearers and everbearers to extend the harvest.

• Summer radishes – Ready to eat 6 weeks after sowing, peppery radish is perfect for filling a gap in your crops.

• Beets – The striking red-veined leaves look beautiful and are as good to eat as the earthy baby roots.

• Swiss chard – Neon-colored stems make this leafy crop a must.

• Zucchini – A single bush can provide more than 20 fruits, along with glorious yellow flowers.

It seems obvious, but use your space to grow what you like to eat. Although it’s tempting to try weird and wonderful crops seen in catalogs, or to plant a glut of the latest superfood, what you really want is everyday produce that tastes fabulous. Even in a large garden there won’t be time or space for everything, and to grow something to eat every day, you need to consider a few points.

The most important point to consider is the return that each crop will give for the amount of space it takes. Asparagus, for example, needs a large dedicated bed to produce a decent crop over a couple of months. On the other hand, a few rows of cut-and-come-again lettuce can supply daily salads all year round. Many winter crops, such as parsnips and sprouting broccoli, need to be in the ground for months before they are ready for harvesting; so you either need to squeeze fast-growing crops between them or limit their numbers in small spaces.

Greenhouses and hoophouses offer exciting possibilities for extending the season for tender crops such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and more. Even unheated, these structures provide enough protection to grow extra Junebearing strawberries in spring, to raise winter crops such as radishes and cut-and-come-again salads, and give many crops a head start.

Greenhouses are expensive to buy new, so make sure the shape and size you choose suits your garden and growing ambitions. Also ensure that there is adequate ventilation to keep air flowing around your plants; aim for one roof- and one side-vent for every 6 ft (2 m) of length.

Hoophouses are cheaper to construct, but not as attractive as a stylish greenhouse. The plastic that covers them has a limited lifespan, as does the plastic used in some greenhouses, and they are more difficult to ventilate, but they still provide a great growing space.

Whichever structure you choose, position it on a bright, level site, away from the shade of buildings and trees, and sheltered from strong winds. Be sure to provide good access, and try to find space outside for a rain barrel and also a tool shed.

Small-scale covers, such as cloches and cold frames, are invaluable for warming the soil to allow seeds to be sown early. They can also be used to harden off plants raised indoors, keep out damaging winds and hungry pests, and protect overwintering crops.

Cloches, whether made of glass, plastic, or row cover, are relatively cheap and have the advantage that they can be moved where needed, although they must be securely pinned to the soil. Use cut-off plastic bottles to cover individual plants, or low, wire-framed tunnels to protect whole rows.

Cold frames usually have a soil base and a sloping, glazed lid. Although lighter frames can be moved where required, many are permanently positioned against south-facing walls, to give maximum light and heat, and extra frost protection. They are ideal for raising early-sown seeds, hardening off young plants, or growing heat-loving crops like cucumbers and melons.

Plastic mini-greenhouses perform many of the same functions as a cold frame. Taller models are ideal for protecting growing bags planted with tomatoes, although they must be anchored securely and have a sheltered, sunny site. Even sunny windowsills are
perfect for raising tender plants from seed. To stop seedlings from bending toward the light, grow them in a simple light box made by cutting the front away from a small cardboard box, and lining the back with reflective silver foil.