The Daily Telegraph - Saturday

Spuds we like: the best sweet potatoes to grow at home

This classic American veg is no longer just a novelty this side of the pond – grow them in pots, in the ground or even use them as super-scrambling houseplant­s, says Sarah Raven

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One of our all-time favourite meals at home is a sweet potato “gratin”, the roots sliced quite finely and then mixed with ginger, lime, coconut milk, chilli and garlic, and baked in a roasting tin for an hour (see recipe). It goes with everything and is equally great on its own or maybe with a salad. However, when it comes to growing sweet potatoes, ever since I visited Bob Flowerdew 20 years ago to see the unusual veg he grew (and to write about it for this paper), I have felt it was better to buy them.

Flowerdew had his sweet potato crop in a double polytunnel, one mini tunnel within another. He felt that to get a root size worth bothering with, these lovely orange-fleshed tubers needed a longer growing season than we had in the UK. He told me our autumns were just too cold.

As a result of climate change and our now typically longer autumns, as well as the availabili­ty of varieties bred for our shorter-than-American growing season, Tom Brown, head gardener at West Dean in West Sussex, decided to trial sweet potatoes last summer to see if things had changed.

Not only do I love eating sweet potatoes (or Ipomea batatas, to give them their botanical name), I love how they look. I have done ever since I saw them grown as houseplant­s in a flat in Paris. Grown much like an avocado, the friends I visited had so-called ipomoea “slips” with their roots in water, the tuber suspended above. Sprouting out the top like Jack’s beanstalk were 20ftlong runners with brilliant green, heart-shaped leaves trained all around one of those huge and glamorous Parisian studio windows.

I’ve remembered it ever since, so when Brown invited me to go to the West Dean sweet potato weigh-in, I was in. There’s no doubt that on square-inch productivi­ty, and time needed to water and feed, sweet potatoes are not winners, but I’m now convinced to grow them as an ornamental edible, if not for the harvest alone.

Brown also makes the point that sweet potatoes are such vigorous growers, they make great weed suppressan­ts. The West Dean greenhouse had an invasion of oxalis all through its bed, but the combinatio­n of hugely strong root growth from the sweet potatoes and the weed-suppressin­g membrane wiped out the oxalis completely.

This year, Brown is planting the heaviest croppers in a wide south-facing border outside to see how they do, and I’ve been inspired to grow all three varieties for our greenhouse in great willow baskets here, too.

 ??  ?? WEST DEAN
SWEET POTATO
TRIAL RESULTS Based on the volume of harvest, Tom Brown and Kelly Dyer of West Dean Gardens divided the varieties they grew into three groups. All the varieties – white and red/ coral – tasted very similar.
WEST DEAN SWEET POTATO TRIAL RESULTS Based on the volume of harvest, Tom Brown and Kelly Dyer of West Dean Gardens divided the varieties they grew into three groups. All the varieties – white and red/ coral – tasted very similar.
 ??  ?? The sweet potato trial harvest at
West Dean resulted in an abundance of varieties
The sweet potato trial harvest at West Dean resulted in an abundance of varieties
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