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Sungold 2

Sungold tomato

I was chatting to fellow tomato enthusiasts recently and as we nattered on about favourite varieties, I was surprised to hear that they found ‘Sungold’ (above) too sweet. Too sweet! In my book a tomato that is too sweet doesn’t exist, but this very same reaction was elicited from a buyer at a large seed company soon afterwards. Well I never!

Said buyer said that his current favourite was ‘Rosella’, another gorgeous looking cherry tomato, but reddish with hints of black, so now I plan to grow this variety in order to compare the two. In fact, I’m planning on growing 9 different varieties, some old favourites and some gorgeous looking new (to me) varieties to find out which varieties I enjoy the most.

Now I don’t have a vast amount of space to grow in, and I want to go a bit wild with lettuces this year (more posts to come on this subject), but the taste, texture (and smell) of home-grown tomatoes is wonderful, miles better than fruits bought in the shops, and growing your own offers a far wider choice of varieties to eat too!

This year I have also purchased a rather lovely greenhouse (first one ever), which will hopefully give me a little more scope with my tomato growing experiments.

Black Krim tomatoes

Black Krim tomato-Gorgeously knarly.

So this summer I shall be growing:

  • ‘Sungold’ , top pic, which never disappoints!
  • ‘Rosella’-thoses hints of black do look tasty
  • ‘Indigo Blue Berries’ from Nicky’s Nursery. Nicky says that these ‘just pop in your mouth and explode with flavour’ and I’m still searching for a delicious black tomato which tastes as good as it looks..
  • ‘Black Krim’ , above, which ripened surprisingly well when grown outdoors and produced huge brutes of a fruit with a meaty texture and a great flavour. What’s not to love!
  • ‘Ananas Noir’ Another beast of a tomato, my favourite from the selection I  tasted at the  Chateau de la Bourdaisiere in the Loire a couple of summers ago, and the cook’s favourite out of the 630 varieties that they grow! Yes, 630!  Now that I can give it some heat in my greenhouse, hopefully I’ll get a good and tasty crop!
  • ‘Sweet aperitif’ A bright red sweet cheery tomato recommended  by Michael Perry at Thomson and Morgan
  • ‘Gardeners Delight’ An old faithful and very reliable cropper of red cherry tomatoes and a good bench mark for the rest of the cherries.
  • ‘Gold Crown’ A sweet and tasty yellow cherry tomato from Sea Spring Seeds
  • Green Envy’ Emerald green small oval fruits, also from Sea Spring Seeds. Can’t wait to taste these.
Indigo Rose tomatoes close

Indigo Rose tomato

I have to admit to being a sucker for good looks when it comes to a vegetable. Who wouldn’t want a salad bowl full of exciting colours and shapes as well as great tastes.  Last year I was seduced by ‘Indigo Rose’. For months it provoked admiring comments from all who passed by as it grew and ripened in my front garden. Sadly, after such wonderful promise, it really came up short on taste, as well as having a mushy texture, and although Michelle at Veg Plotting did say that it made a good tomato sauce, I’m not tempted to grow it again with such limited growing space and so many other exciting varieties out there to try.

Certainly the trend for black tomatoes is strong and Nicky from Nicky’s Nursery says that her top sellers at the moment are ‘Black Cherry and ‘Black opal’ as well as ‘Rosada’ (baby red plum), ‘Sungold’ and ‘Black Krim’. In the past I’ve found that small cherry tomatoes ripen best when outdoor growing has been my only option and I’m going to grow a few varieties indoors and out to see if there’s a great difference in taste.

Tomatoes at Great Dixter

When I’ve holidayed in the Loire over the last few summers, it’s always been a real treat to eat/gorge myself on tomatoes  (I particularly enjoyed almost crunchy, sweet green tomatoes last time I was there), but I know I can never match such warm growing conditions, so closer to home, it’s always worthwhile seeking out local nurseries who hold tasting days at the end of summer. A visit to Victoriana Nursery back in 2011 (in Ashford in kent) was a great way to find out which varieties I might like to grow, and they’ll be holding a tomato open day agin this year on 15th August (with over 80 varieties to try and some new blight resistant varieties too).

Now I haven’t mentioned blight-resistant varieties on my list, as I’ve found when grown in the ground, plants are healthy and vigorous and have not succumbed to this crushingly frustrating disease. I grow in zone 2 in London, and fellow enthusiasts (who live in more rural settings and have had their fair share of blight) are convinced that it’s the pollution of city growing that keeps the blight at bay. Interesting. I need to research this more, but neither my potatoes or tomatoes have suffered in recent years.

In the meantime, I shall be experimenting away, and looking forward to filling my salad bowl with delicious and handsome fruits come August and September.

P.S I had a really fun time recording a podcast about Tomatoes with Alys Folwer and Jane Perrone for the Guardian. There’s some great ideas for cooking from chef Stevie Parle and wonderful advice from Craig LeHouiller who’s grown over 1000 tomato varieties over the last 30 years https://soundcloud.com/sow-grow-repeat/sow-grow-repeat-tomatoes

White Crocus and Snowdrops bestJust like Veronica at Through the Garden Gate, I’ve been peering into other people’s front gardens (this one in Maida Vale). Although I’m usually more partial to a blaze of colour: masses of daffodils or riotous tulips, I saw this arresting virginal combination of snowdrops and white crocuses the other day and it really moved me. I love this simple but heavenly effect and plan on borrowing the idea for next spring in my own small patch.

Galanthus S. Arnott?And I don’t think these are just any old snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) either. Possibly Galanthus S. Arnott (please correct me if you know better!), a gorgeous, gently-scented taller variety which looks so great planted alongside these bold snowy blooms.

White Crocus and Snowdrops 3

Again, I’m not sure which variety this Crocus is, but Peter Nyssen have a large white Crocus ‘Jeanne D’Arc’ (15cm tall) which is now on my wish list for ordering later in the year.

Crocus in potsThese mega Crocuses also looked rather charming as underplanting in pots of Hydrangeas and I shall be keeping an eye open (and camera at the ready) for how these borders and pots progress.

Galanthus elwesii 'Millers Late'Compared to Chelsea and Hampton court, shows in the RHS halls in Victoria are small, almost intimate affairs and I love them for this. It’s the sweet spring scent that first hits you as you enter Lawrence hall, then as you hone in on the plants, it’s the details of all the different cultivars that lure you in. Choice nurseries from all over the country have their finest plants (and wares) on show and I have to admit being instantly smitten by this whopper of a snowdrop, Galanthus elwesii ‘Millers Late’ on the Harveys stand (@£16 a pop). Friend Catherine is holding a smaller (nivalis sized-ish) snowdrop next to it to give some idea of scale. Most of the snowdrops here are varieties you’ll never see in garden centres and they’re an absoute joy to behold.

Crocus Korolowii from HW Hyde & sonAnother beauty that caught my eye is Crocus korolkowii on the HW Hyde & son nursery stand and it’s definitely on my list for next year. Looks like it clumps up beautifully too.

Plant Belles plant supports allNow I’ve bought natty metal hoops from Plant Belles before to make a cloche to wrap up my winter veg, and they’ve worked really well. This time I was on the lookout for supports for slightly floppy Dahlias and the Sidney support at 87cm tall, 46cm wide (bottom left of pic) should hopefully fit the bill. I also have a client with a rather untoward climbing rose in the middle of a large bed and I’ve been hunting around for a tall support that I can wrap the rose around, inspired by the rose training at Notre-Dame Prieure D’Orsan in France. Always keen to help, Jenny at Plant Belles has been asked by another designer to develop a taller version(1.5-2m?) of their wider (74cm) George support (at back of pic), so looking forward to seeing what she produces for both us later in the season (will keep you posted on this). I can’t wait to start experimenting!

Iris Histriodes and Reticulata on Jaques Amand standAs Clive commented on in my previous post, Jaques Amand’s reticulata Irises were absolutely gorgeous. Plant breeder Alan McMurtrie was over from Toronto, generously sharing information on the new cultivars he had developed alongside Dutch bulb growers.

Iris Histriodes Gerorge

Iris histriodes ‘George’ seemed to glow in the light,

Iris Clairetteand the two-tone blues of Clairette were very appealing.

Iris Frank ElderThe softer tones of Frank Elder however finally won me over,

Iris Sorm

until I espied Storm

Iris Sea Greenand the more subtle tones and slightly torn looking petals of I. ‘Sea Green’. George, Clairette and Frank Elder will be in the Jacques Amand autumn bulbs catalogue and I’m in the process of checking whether ‘Sea Green’ and ‘Storm’ will be available too. Will let you know. Hope so!

Bronze tools from  from implementations.co.ukAnd finally, these lovely shiny bronze (94%copper) tools from Implementations had ‘buy me’ written all over them. The tool heads come with a 25 year guarantee (tool shafts 2 years) and according to their brochure their sharp edges stay sharp. I thought the pointier of the trowels looked fantastic for bulb planting, and was very tempted by the hoe. This has sharp edges back and front of the head, so it will cut through weeds when you both push and pull. As I get more into ‘no dig’, this seems like a perfect tool to keep weeds down and copper tools, allegedly, deter slugs and snails too. Now firmly on my birthday list!

These ‘small’ shows are such a treat. You have the opportunity to chat and buy plants and tools from some wonderful growers and makers from all over the country, right there on your doorstep, and I for one can’t wait for the next RHS show on 14-15th April.

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