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Naomi's Salad

Ah! Flattery will get you everywhere! Suttons sent out four salad seed mixes for gardening bloggers and journalists to trial in early Feb, accompanied by one’s own personalised wooden growing tray. Now, I have to admit to being the kind of person who buys trainers because the ‘N’ logo matches my own initial, so I couldn’t help but be charmed. Not that this would sway me in any way in regards to the results of the seed trials………….(Hm…).

Confessions over, onto the mixes. None of my indoor windowsills could accommodate my personalised wooden tray, as it measures 53 x 36 x 9cm high, but luckily for me, I have a lovely new greenhouse (hurrah!), so out I popped and got sowing at the beginning of March. I’m a bit of a traditionalist, and like sowing my leaves individually, not all mixed in together, so I must admit to being a little curious as to how I’d get on with these packets.

detail

Growing above is the ‘Spicy Oriental Mix’ (5 weeks after sowing) and I found it to be very tasty. This peppery/mustard mix contains: Pak Choi ‘Cantong White’, Mizuna, ‘Kyoto’, mustard leaves ‘Red Giant’ and ‘Golden Streaks’ and Salad Rocket. All quick growers and perfect for growing in the cooler weather in early spring. However I do like a nice bit of crunch in my salads these days, and these young tender leaves are quite soft, so for me the mix worked best combined with bought Cos type lettuces (my own are still a few weeks away from being ready to pick) for the ideal taste and texture.

Cake Sunday

We held another ‘Cake Sunday’ community get-together this weekend and Suttons kindly donated 50 packs of their salad leaf mixes to give away (huge thanks!). After neighbours nibbled leaves from my seed tray mix, packets flew off the table!

The three other mixes that came with the crate are: ‘French Mix’ containing Salad rocket, Dandelion, Chervil and Cress, ‘Italian Mix’ containing Basil, Dandelion, Cress, Mustard Ruby Steaks and Wild Rocket and ‘Californian Mix’ containing Mustard leaves, Pak Choi, Greek Cress and Wild Rocket. I’ll be growing these outdoors (in my crate once the spicy mix has had its second flourish) over the next few months now the weather is warming up and I hope they’ll be equally tasty.

The wooden crate itself is part of Suttons’ ‘Stacks of Flavour’ range. Crates start at £20 for one slat high (with personalised message of up to 20 characters) which also includes 4 packets of salad mixes and crates come in 1, 2 or 3 slats high and either 18cm or 36cm deep.

You can buy the empty crates or crates with themed seed collections or plants such as the 2 slats high Herbtastic collection containing plugs of Chives, Mint, Parsley, Thyme and Oregano or  the 3 slats high Pizza collection with super plugs of Crimson Crush tomato plants, Basil and Oregano.

Great ideas that make it simple for those who want to grow their own in small spaces (in a beautifully coordinated fashion!).

Lunaria 'Corfu Blue'I bought little seedlings of this lovely perennial Honesty (originating from several Greek islands) around Easter last year from Special Plants in Bath and this spring they have started flowering. I had to move the plants last autumn to make way for my new greenhouse and was surprised to see that their roots were akin to Dahlia tubers, big and chunky, storing up plenty of energy for gorgeous blooms this year. This variety will grow in sun or light shade, with rich purplish seed pods, and if you sow seeds in late spring this year, they should flower next year. I’m hoping they’ll start to self-seed in my garden for the years ahead as it’s only a short-lived perennial.

Green leaved and Variegated Honesty in a crack

I spent a few inspirational days volunteering at Great Dixter last week, where self-seeding is always encouraged to keep planting dynamic throughout the garden.  Both green-leaved and variegated biennial Honesty (Lunaria annua) self-seeds freely in their borders (and in cracks in-between paving and buildings) allowing for some serendipitous planting combinations and I hope to get back to see some of these over the next few months. Special plants offer seeds for both biennial and perennial Honesties, including Lunaria rediviva, another perennial with lavender flowers and elliptical, more pointy seed pods.

These seed pods are a great childhood memory, sliding off the outer coats carefully, to reveal that delicate pale papery translucent film underneath.  It’s only now that I’m realising what useful spring colour they can add to a garden.

Leucojum and lunaria

At the moment ‘Corfu Blue’ is looking great alongside some nodding Leucojum aestivum (summer snowflake).

20th April Postscript

Lunaria annuaHere’s Lunaria annua (confusingly a biennial) on a very sunny day at Great Dixter, contrasting brilliantly with some rich yellow tulips.

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

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