The Mail on Sunday
Suddenly everyone’s growing potatoes on their patios. But which celebrity gardener can get the most out of one bag and win our £5,000 charity prize?
IT’S THE great gardening trend of the year. At garden centres all over Britain, potato-growing kits are being snapped up by families eager to experience the taste of their own fresh spuds.
But the big mystery is: how many potatoes can you get from one grow-sack?
The Mail on Sunday has asked seven very different personalities – from politician Vince Cable and Radio 4 inquisitor John Humphrys to television celebrities Natalie Pinkham and Anthea Turner – to take up our Great Potato Challenge to find the answer.
We have equipped each of them with a grow-sack, compost and five Vales Emerald seed potatoes and given them ten weeks to produce the best possible crop. The delicious and heavy-yielding variety Vales Emerald is popular as a salad potato.
The winner, who will be chosen by BBC Gardeners’ World presenter Toby Buckland, will pick up £5,000 for a charity of his or her choice.
Here our contestants tell of their expectations and, right, Toby gives his tips for a bumper harvest.
And you can take up the challenge for fun by ordering the growing kit from The Mail on Sunday shop, below right. ‘WE HAVE a small, suburban garden with flowers but have never been into growing vegetables, so I am quite intrigued,’ says the 66-year-old MP.
‘We had vegetable beds with peas and beans when I was a child. In those days, after the war, growing your own food was considered the right thing to do.
‘I’m very supportive of my local allotments and it’s a big issue in my area because a lot of people want them and can’t get them. It’s good for people to be more self-reliant, and the recession has reinforced the idea.
‘It’s my wife who has green fingers, as did my late wife. I’m the person who does the digging and carries away the rubbish, so I’m a good sub-gardener.
‘I’m not great at eating fresh vegetables and have a childhood aversion to boiled cabbage. But when it comes to potatoes, I’m afraid chips are a weakness. I love them from the chip shop with salt, vinegar and HP sauce.’ NATALIE PINKHAM thinks nothing of jumping from planes for fun, but the thought of growing potatoes has her worried. ‘I’m the running joke in my family when it comes to this sort of thing,’ says the 30-year-old former Dancing On Ice contender and friend of Prince Harry.
‘I’m the most undomesticated person I know but I’m very competitive – not with other people, but with myself – and I’ll stop at nothing to win.
‘I don’t have any outside space in London but will make the most of my balcony, which is the size of a small table. I’m going to put a picture of the most sumptuous potatoes on my grow-sack so my spuds can learn to grow like them. I think I’ll get a bit obsessive about it.
‘I’ll be sleeping with the spuds, and my boyfriend, rugby player Owain Walbyoff, will be on the balcony.’ JOHN HUMPHRYS had his own allotment at 13 and will grow his crop of potatoes with son Owen, nine.
‘When I was younger, we always used to sow seed potatoes on Good Friday but I don’t know why,’ says John, 66.
‘Growing them in a sack is a nice way for kids to see the shoots sprouting and I want Owen to learn that potatoes don’t come out of plastic bags.
‘I’ve always been fairly bonkers about growing vegetables. Even when I was abroad as a foreign correspondent, I always looked for a house with a big enough garden to grow my own food.
‘In South Africa I grew moderately exotic stuff like squashes but I haven’t had a vegetable garden for a long time, and even though I have a big garden in London it’s not really suitable.
‘Gardening was the kind of thing that you learned to do automatically if you were born when I was. Everybody had a garden then and it’s only relatively recently that we have stopped doing it.
‘Without potatoes and onions, life wouldn’t be worth living. They are magnificent vegetables and phenomenally versatile.’ ANTHEA TURNER’S secret weapon is her horse Caramello who, she says, will provide the perfect fertiliser.
‘It’s better to let the stuff dry first so that it becomes really nice and crumbly,’ says Anthea, 49.
‘I have a dedicated vegetable garden and have grown everything from onions and garlic to peas, potatoes and parsnips over the past ten years.
‘I’m a bit like Prince Charles and will talk to my plants to encourage them. I’ll say, “Come on, you can do it” and, “Just a little bit more.”
‘If I had to choose one thing to eat on a desert island it would be a potato. They’re so versatile and have more Vitamin C than oranges. When I did Hell’s Kitchen I learned how to make the best mashed potatoes.
‘Potato gratin is my absolute favourite so that’s what I’ll be making with my crop. I don’t think Hell’s Kitchen presenter Marco Pierre White would want to share it, though.’