A friend of mine has got an absolutely tiny town garden, most of it paved. Sitting among the jasmine one night last summer with a glass of wine, she told me: 'I have this image of myself serving up summer pudding in July and saying I'd grown all the fruit myself. I mean, people grow tomatoes and potatoes and stuff in tubs, don't they?' Well, it's a seductive fantasy, that's for sure. I really identified with what she was saying because it summed up for me the desperate desire town-dwellers have to get the best of both worlds. We want to be able to serve up summer pudding, but from somewhere you can walk to Tate Modern.
It's the right time of year to be thinking about such things, because this is when you should be buying and establishing fruit plants (and it's always nice to while away dark evenings imagining a summer's afternoon spent picking tasty fruit). So I decided to set myself the task this week of turning my friend's fantasy into a reality. But what are the minimum conditions under which such a Nigella-ish dream could be realised? I have quizzed grandmas, fruit growers, garden centres, fruit-cage sellers and cooks, but I'm sure there's still much more to be learnt. Please let me know any of your own personal experiences - all contributions are welcome.
This may be a gardening column, but there is also the question of which recipe to use. I've never seen a more varied set of ingredients: Mary Berry uses rhubarb, Gordon Ramsay's has a blackcurrant coulis, and Gary Rhodes lets you add what you like from a list including blueberries and tayberries. My preference is for more blue fruits, and less sharp red.
All summer puddings start with raspberries and redcurrants, though. Raspberries need the most spoiling, because they are hungry for soil of their very own, untroubled by neighbours. They don't need to be baked in sunshine; what they want is moisture and nice, rich earth. Each cane will produce handfuls of fruit, but over a period of weeks. So, I am going to propose a bit of a cheat, which will allow us to get what we want in the tiniest outside space: plant just five canes, put a plastic box in the freezer, and fill it up over time till there's enough for a proper dessert. And buy a variety which is suitably freezable, such as 'Glen Ample'.
With soft red fruit, you need to protect the plants from birds straightaway. It's not just summer berries that get pecked, but the tasty little buds that are juicy and nutritious for winter starvelings. So fix the netting down tightly, and make sure you check for trapped birds daily. And once the canes start growing, move the nets so that the plants don't grow through them and get tangled up.
Of course, there is a more radical solution to the problem of greedy raspberries and the small garden. Consider growing tayberries and loganberries instead, which are raspberry-blackberry hybrids that take the sharp ping off the taste of the red fruit with a touch of bramble mellowness. They are as laid-back as brambles in the way they grow, too, and don't need complicated pruning. However, the final decision's up to you and your tastebuds.
Next you need redcurrants, which grow into a big happy bush, but which will also need netting. I think 'Rovada' is probably the best choice here, and you'll get enough fruit for summer pudding and a jar or two of redcurrant jelly from just one of these, once it is established. Redcurrants are sold as one multi-stem plant for about £8. When you buy or order fruit canes, remember that one 'pot' or 'plant' from a garden centre or catalogue will have five or six 'canes' to it, so make sure you compare like with like when you are looking at prices. And when you're thinking about planting fruit, don't forget front gardens and along driveways, both of which may have the kind of undisturbed space that these fruit would like.
So, on to the blue fruit. You'll often see the compact blackcurrant 'Ben Sarek' recommended, which has less appeal to birds and doesn't normally require netting. It could go into the flowerbed or in a tub, and has the advantages of being heavy-cropping and only growing to about 3ft tall. It should cost about £7.
Thornless blackberries and their hybrids are much less vigorous than wild brambles, so they are going to be my next space-saving choice. 'Helen' and 'Karaka Black' are the earliest. One of the main advantages of blackberries and blueberries is autumn colour - blueberry leaves go a particularly amazing scarlet in October. Make sure you choose an early-fruiting blueberry because all the other fruit I've recommended should be in full swing by late July - try 'Spartan' or 'Top Hat' from J Parker, the mail-order nursery, both £5.95.
There's one more thing to consider. Don't bother doing this if you, like some of my friends, move every two years. It is only for the relatively settled urban dwellers, because all fruit takes a while to get into the rhythm of actually producing. The date of the first pud will be 2008, not next year.
My final recipe is: one each of tayberry, loganberry, redcurrant 'Rovada', blackcurrant 'Ben Sarek', and blackberry 'Karaka Black' - and two blueberries 'Top Hat'. Or, you could always buy some berries, and grow the rest yourself in tubs. Come on fellow urbanites, let's live the dream.
If you do one thing... watch Christopher Lloyd
Don't miss a chance to see the master in action, walking and talking in his own garden. Christopher Lloyd died in January at the ripe old age of 84, having spent his life making the garden at Great Dixter, Sussex. He had a way of talking about gardening that was inspiring, yet at the same time put you totally in your place. Enjoy being made to feel deeply inadequate and at the same time gawp at the best colour combinations you'll ever see on television. 'Gardener Provocateur' is on BBC Two at 9pm, on 15 December J Parker & Sons, www.jparkers.co.uk; Unwins is also recommended for fruit, www.unwinsdirect.co.ukReuse content