We speak to soil scientist, nutritional gardener and owner of Ergrownomics (opens in new tab), Dr Nigel Bending about the most common planting mistakes, and how best to avoid them.

  1. NOT CONSIDERING YOUR SPACE When growing in a container you’re going to be very limited on space. One option to get around this is to harvest crops as ‘baby leaf’ before they reach full size. Another alternative is to choose crops that have a compact form, even when mature. A good knowledge of varieties is essential; for example, stripy ‘Piccolo’ courgettes, ‘Pot black’ mini aubergines and yellow ‘Summer ball’ courgettes are all great options to try if you have limited space. ‘Tom Thumb’ pea is another great example, producing full-size pods while only reaching 25cm in height – which is less than a third of most podding peas.
  2. SELECTING PEST-PRONE CROPS It might seem like a nice idea to grow brassicas such as cabbage and turnip, but in reality, they’re hugely prone to a long list of maladies and pests. It’s much simpler to substitute them with more hardy alternatives. Some of the best vegetables to grow in a greenhouse (opens in new tab) include ‘Red Kitten’ spinach or ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss Chard (which can produce stems in 13 separate colours!) so why not swap out cabbage for these instead?
  3. CHOOSING VARIETIES NOT SOLD IN SUPERMARKETS Many people stick to what they know and only choose to grow the herbs and veg that they’re familiar with on supermarket shelves, but by doing this you’ll miss out on crops with higher nutritional value and superior taste. Supermarkets will only choose varieties that can survive the rigours of picking, transport, storage and display – so nutrients and flavour are not their top priority. Herbs actually grow better in containers than garden beds or allotments – so why not try to grow your own thriving herb garden with (for example) alternative basil varieties like ‘Lemon’, ‘Thai’ or ‘Ruby’? ‘French’ and ‘Red-veined’ sorrel also aren’t readily available in supermarkets, but sorrels are one of the most reliable and long-lasting crops you can grow, with an amazing zingy, fizzy lemon taste. ‘Confetti’ and ‘calypso’ corianders are also new to try, and have been specifically bred for British weather.
  4. IGNORING THE MATURITY TIME Some crops have a very long maturity time (for parsnips, it’s 180 days) so it’s a good idea to look at how long your crops will take to mature before selecting them. ‘Chioggia’ beetroot is a great alternative to ‘Boltardy’ beetroot as it matures quicker, as is ‘Speedy’ Dwarf French bean (rather than ‘Masterpiece’ Dwarf French bean). Anything under 90 days is ideal, as it allows at two (or even three!) crops to be grown in every season. See:Great Dixter’s Aaron Bertelsen shares his tips for growing fruit and veg in pots
  5. BEING TOO AMBITIOUS For beginner gardeners with limited space, it’s best to avoid ambitious veg like celery. Growing your own ‘lettuce bag’ is a nice alternative first step for beginners. The seeds are widely available and grow very reliably. Some nice varieties to try include Mustard ‘Red Giant’, Mizuna, Mizuna ‘Red Knight’, Mustard ‘Golden Frills’ and Mustard ‘Red Frills’, plus spinach ‘Red Kitten’ and rocket ‘Serrata’. The leaves have a peppery taste which runs from mild in ‘Mizuna’ to hot (occasionally fiery!) in Red Giant. If these lettuces turn out to be a bit too hot to handle you may want to opt for something sweeter tasting, in which case ‘Black-seeded simpson’, ‘Cocarde’ and ‘Oak-leaf smile’ are likely to fit the bill.