Don’t have acres of farmland to grow your own vegetables? No problem. A thoughtfully curated container garden planted in a simple pot at least 24 inches in diameter and placed on a sunny patio will yield multiple meals’ worth of colorful health-boosting produce. Here, we offer three themed plant mixes for what vegetables to grow in pots, and recipe ideas to show off your harvest.
Okra or Pole Beans
Mint and Marigolds
Ornamental Sweet Potato
The anchor plant here is a 4-foot tall okra or pole bean that will both grow into attractive shrub shapes. Around the central plant, tuck a few leafy mustard greens, which grow to about 2 feet tall. Intersperse taller mustard greens with mint and one or two French marigolds to attract pollinators. When you are trying to decide what vegetables to grow in pots, don’t forget to mix in herbs and flowers! The mint and flowers will fill in when the weather becomes too hot for the greens. For a trailing plant to soften the pot edge, plant a few ornamental sweet potatoes. The roots are edible, though not as flavorful as traditional sweet potatoes, which have much larger leaves and roots.
• Pick young okra pods and toss them with salt and olive oil, then roast on a sheet pan in a 400-degree oven for about 15 minutes.
• Dice sweet potato roots and roast, then add to soups or a skillet hash.
• Stew bitter mustard greens as you would collards (they are best cooked) with chicken stock, onion, bacon and a splash of cider vinegar.
• Use fresh mint to make mint juleps, mojitos or tea for refreshing summer drinks.
• Pull marigold flowers apart and use the edible petals as colorful food garnishes.
Sun Gold Cherry Tomatoes
Rainbow Chard and Basil
You’ll find endless ways to eat the vegetables grown in this pot. In the center, plant a bushy dwarf or cherry tomato, such as a Gold Nugget variety. Be sure that your tomato is a compact “determinate” and not a leggy “indeterminate” variety that can grow out of control. Add some colorful chard and purple basil to grow alongside the tomato, and alternate those with shorter arugula. Plant thyme along the edge to trail down the side of the pot. Pinch the basil tips frequently to keep them from blooming, which makes the leaves bitter.
• Toss fresh cherry tomatoes with torn purple basil leaves, fresh mozzarella balls, olive oil and vinegar for a twist on a traditional Caprese salad.
• Add peppery arugula to salads and soups, or bake on top of pizza.
• Pull the chard leaves from the stem and chop coarsely, then slice the stem into small pieces. Sauté both leaves and stem with garlic, onion, olive oil, pine nuts and a splash of lemon juice for a simple but flavorful pasta topping.
• Sauté arugula quickly with olive oil and garlic, then toss with pasta and Parmesan cheese.
• Toss diced root vegetables with olive oil, thyme and rosemary, and then roast on a shallow tray in the oven.
• Sprinkle fresh thyme on pasta salads.
Chili or Sweet Bell Pepper
Thai Basil and Broccoli Rabe
Cilantro and Nasturtiums
Plant a spicy bird chili or sweet dwarf bell pepper variety in the center of the pot for an anchor shrub. Select a variety with bright red peppers for the best pop of color amid the green foliage. Fill in around the chili with Thai basil interspersed with a few mizuna (an Asian green) or broccoli rabe plants. Plant cilantro and nasturtium along the edge of the pot and encourage it to spill over the rim. Let cilantro flower to attract pollinators, and use the blossoms in salads or as a colorful garnish.
• Put two or three whole-bird chilies (fresh or dried) into a spicy stew or a stir-fry, then remove them before serving. They will add a mellow warmth without being harsh.
• Add sweet bell peppers to stir-fries and salads, or slice and dip in hummus.
• Add Thai basil, nasturtium leaves and chopped mizuna to salads, miso or ramen soup, and stir-fry.
• Stir-fry chopped broccoli rabe and its leaves with sesame oil and soy sauce, and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.
• Garnish any dish with bright nasturtium flowers, which are entirely edible.
The secret to deciding what vegetables to grow in pots is simply to choose what you like to eat! Then build a layered pot with a selection of a tall central focal point, mid-level fillers and trailing edge plants. Make your own list and get potting!
This story was written by Phaedra Hise for Virginia Living magazine.