Great Dixter’s Aaron Bertelsen shares his tips for growing fruit and veg in pots

Aaron Bertelsen, gardener and cook at Great Dixter, shares his love for growing fruit and veg in pots, plus the secret to homemade rhubarb gin.

Aaron has a courtyard in the garden packed with fruit and vegetables in various sizes, which include a lemon tree, aubergines and blueberries.

Grow fruit and veg

Photography: Andrew Montgomery

Aaron’s book Grow Fruit & Vegetables in Pots: Planting advice and recipes from Great Dixter is all about growing crops in pots to create delicious food.

Growing fruit and veg

Photography: Andrew Montgomery

Shop: Grow Fruit and Vegetables in Pots by Aaron Bertelsen is published by Phaidon

‘I’m not a chef but I make lunches for the workshops here, using ingredients from the kitchen garden. I wanted to show people how you can grow a range of edibles in a small space, such as a courtyard or balcony.’

1. YOU CAN GROW ALMOST ANYTHING IN POTS

Grow fruit and vegetables

Photography: Andrew Montgomery

One of the great advantages of container growing is that it is easy to extend the growing season. Many plants will benefit from the additional warmth found close to the house or apartment, and it is the work of a few seconds to throw a piece of fleece or hessian (burlap) over more vulnerable pots.

Another bonus of container gardening is that there is no back-breaking digging, and you are free to create different compost (potting soil) mixes to suit the needs of individual crops – light soil for carrots and parsnips, acidic for blueberries and so on. A container garden also provides opportunities to grow unusual varieties or hard-to-obtain ingredients, such as that obscure herb you need for your favourite curry but can never seem to find in the shops.

See The top 10 garden trends for 2020, according to the Society of Garden Designers

2. GROW RHUBARB IN POTS FOR DELICIOUS GIN

Growing fruit and veg

Photography: Andrew Montgomery

Rhubarb is a perennial plant with a very large root system, but will grow well in a pot, provided it’s at least 40 cm/16 inches in diameter. It is also very hungry, so make sure you use good compost (potting soil) and add plenty of organic matter (see page 28). Forced rhubarb is one of the gastronomic treats of the year, and is so easy to do with a pot. Just wait until the shoots start to emerge in early spring, then cover them to block out the light. A terracotta rhubarb forcer would look wonderful, but a plastic tub or trug will work equally well, provided there are no holes in it. Check under the cover every week or so to see whether the shoots are starting to appear. The plants are unlikely to need water and won’t need feeding at this stage.

Rhubarb can then be turned into a delicious gin.

  • Place the fruit in a warm, sterilized Kilner jar, then add the sugar, followed by the gin. Seal the jar and shake well. Let infuse (steep) for 4 days or so in a cool, dark place, giving it a good shake every day. Taste and add more sugar, if desired.
  • Strain through a muslin (cheesecloth)-lined funnel into warm, sterilized bottles, reserving the infused rhubarb pieces to use to make a fool, or freeze them for another time.
  • Serve the gin really, really cold. It will keep for months – if you don’t drink it all at once!

3. ADD COLOUR WITH EDIBLE FLOWERS

Grow fruit and vegetables

Photography: Andrew Montgomery

Aaron suggests Nasturtiums as a good option ‘The flowers and leaves, make an excellent peppery addition to a salad, and you can even pickle the seeds if you wish – they taste rather like capers.’

Violas are also a favourite of Aaron’s ‘Violas could well be my number one edible flower to grow, but I must confess that I cannot bring myself to eat them. Their little faces are just too sweet. But that is not to say these annual plants aren’t performing a useful role in the container garden, covering the empty spaces at the base of trees, shrubs and perennial vegetables, such as globe artichokes.’

For those with a sweet tooth ‘Scented pelargoniums bring so much to the container garden. The foliage effect is wonderful, and of course there is the scent, so evocative and so delicious as a flavouring for sorbets and syrups.’

Great Dixter

Photography: Andrew Montgomery

See Five-minute gardening tips from the National Trust

Grow fruit and vegetables

Photography: Andrew Montgomery

You can find more recipes in Aaron’s book ‘Grow Fruit and Vegetables in Pots by Aaron Bertelsen is published by Phaidon – photography by Andrew Montgomery’

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