Growing ornamental edibles in containers is high on my agenda this summer. For the garden beds, I’m providing more nectar- and pollen-rich plants for the crowd of pollinators I hope to attract, but for myself, I’d like to have beautiful edible plants in containers where I can admire them — and also take a bite! I’ve got plans for pretty pots of strawberries and peppers, and hope to find started transplants on my upcoming nursery crawl.
Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I suppose someone might prefer to see pelargoniums or roses in containers. But to my eye, nothing is prettier than the dark rose-pink flowers of ‘Toscana’ strawberries, with three or four plants spilling their large and luscious berries over the sides of 10-inch (25-cm) pots or hanging baskets. The plants carry flowers and fruit at the same time, and continue producing all summer. The classic strawberry flowers are lovely to see, and come in two additional flower colours — medium rose-pink ‘Frisan’ and pastel-pink ‘Pikan’. These are perennial strawberries that can be grown in the ground, but are also adaptable to basket culture (and could be set in the ground in autumn). The fruits are reliably sweet, with a Brix sugar rating of eight to 10 per cent.
I’m also on the lookout for ‘Tinker Bell’ peppers, vivid yellow and red two-inch (5-cm) bells, just right for fresh snacking (or stuffed and baked as brag-worthy canapes). The 24-inch (60-cm) plants fit into a one gallon (4 L) container on their own, or could be paired with trailing purple verbena for a dazzling effect. I like growing peppers for ornamental display because the fruits stay in good condition on the plants and the little bells deepen their colours as weeks pass.
As a companion for the peppers, I’m looking for semi-hot ‘Sweet Heat’ (12 x 16 inches / 30 x 40 cm), a compact plant that produces slightly crumpled-looking, three-inch (8-cm) long red fruit with mild heat. (I’m not a fan of extremely hot peppers, and reassured to know that ‘Sweet Heat’ doesn’t even register on the scale of Scoville units.) It’s mild enough to be eaten raw in salads, but is also good for salsas and pickling. ‘Sweet Heat’ fruits are deep red with occasional dark flushes, and are one of the high-nutrient super foods, with 65 per cent more vitamin C than green peppers.
Container-grown plants require consistent watering because they can’t access ground moisture and their foliage prevents rain from adequately reaching pot soil. I’ll also add small amounts of balanced fertilizer into the water every time the pots are irrigated. Their special treat will be a half-cup (125-mL) of Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) scratched into the soil once the plants begin flowering to increase the potential fruit crop.
If I can’t find started plants of my selected strawberries and peppers, I’m prepared to make compromises. Certainly there will be other varieties that will provide the fun and feast of farming in containers. Foods that feed both the eyes and the appetite are what I want to see on the porch and patio this summer.