Growing vegetables in pots can be a great way to put the harvest right at your back door, but pots can also be the centerpieces of a garden, and they should be pretty.
“When you’re designing pots with vegetables, use color as your guide,” says Andrea Bellamy, who grows all kinds of vegetables in pots on her balcony in Vancover and has written a book on the subject, Sugar Snaps and Strawberries. Swiss chard, particularly ‘Bright Lights’, which has ruffled leaves and flashy red, yellow, orange, and white stems, “is one of the darlings of the ornamental vegetable world,” she says, and it looks terrific in a pot or planter. Shiny purple eggplant, or eggplants with striped or mottled fruit, are also great looking and thrive in pots.
Bellamy especially recommends leafy vegetables for pots. Handsome green-blue Lacinato kale is one of her favorites. It has heavily quilted leaves and grows in a tight cluster, which allows lots of room for mounding plants around the sides of a pot.
“I like purple bush beans,” she says. “They’re just kind of fun.” She uses them as a filler plant in big pots. Curly kale, basil, chives, and sage are other easy, and delicious, fillers. Bellamy prefers curly-leaf parsley for its texture, and she recommends loose-leaf lettuce plants for their great productivity. Lettuce can be planted early in the season around the edges of a pot, allowing room for eggplants, colorful peppers, tomatoes, or other upright plants to fill out in the center as the weather warms up. A tepee, a tomato tower, or an ornamental obelisk all look a bit more decorative than a tomato cage and will support upright plants admirably.
Trailing plants soften the edges of a pot and let you pack a little more production in around the sides. Peas will trail, but most also travel; ‘Peas in a Pot’ were designed for containers — they are compact and productive. Strawberries are also well-mannered and reliable in pots. Weeping rosemary or hanging-basket tomatoes are good spillers, Bellamy says. Nasturtiums, with round leaves like miniature lily pads and bright yellow, red, or orange flowers, tumble gracefully over the edge of a vegetable garden in a pot. They look good enough to eat, and they are: the leaves and flowers taste a little bit like cress. Pick all you want. In this case, you’re supposed to eat the garnish.