Trying out heritage seeds gives interest to the plot
The beans and peas are growing, salads are doing well. Potatoes are just through. So far so good, and just what all of us look for at this time of year. However, I’m always up for a challenge or something new to try out to add to the fun. The late Christopher Lloyd from Great Dixter in Sussex was still experimenting into his old age. He caused a stir when he became bored with an old established traditional rose bed, ripped it out and replaced it with exotic plants. You can read about it in his book The Adventurous Gardener. In past years I’ve tried New Zealand yams, vegetable spaghetti and multicoloured carrots. This year, Stuart on Inverleith Allotments has challenged me to grow some decent- sized fennel bulbs. I’ve failed miserably before although others grow it successfully on our site. If we have another warm summer my luck may change.
Allotment plotholders who have a go at growing unusual crops could be contributing to important scientific knowledge. A thoughtprovoking photographic exhibition running until 9 June at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh is part of the wider Food Forever initiative. This organisation emphasises that safeguarding a wide range of seeds gives the world the best chance of preserving nutritious and climate resistant crops as well as looking again at some forgotten ones. I learned that Orkney’s bere barley is particularly efficient at extracting nutrients from soil, reducing the need for expensive fertilisers. In Scotland, the James Hutton Institute is developing new varieties suited to our
climate. Internationally, potatoes are the most important food crop after wheat and rice. I admired a display of potato sacks commemorating two giants of Scottish potato breeding, Archibald Findlay of Auchtermuchty and Donald Mackelvie from Arran.
Members of Garden Organic ( www. gardenorganic. org. uk) can obtain rare vegetable seeds through the Heritage Seed Library ( HSL). Among the 800 different varieties kept in the HSL are heirlooms that have been saved over generations. These
I’ve been challenged to grow some decent- sized fennel bulbs this year
days, large seed companies have their eye on profits at the expense of maintaining some varieties. Subscribers to the HSL receive a seed list in December. Members can choose up to six items from the list.
Last year I tried a tall pea called Newick, but the height made it rather difficult to protect from birds. This year’s list included Uncle Bert’s Purple Kale and Mr Fearn’s Purple Flowered Climbing French Bean, which has purple flowers and long silky pods. n
Uncle Bert’s Purple Kale is one of the heritage varieties available from the HSL