Belle F1 from Mr Fothergill.
GARDENING ONE of the many great things about gardening is looking forward to the taste of the seasons to come — and one of the best of those tastes is the tomato, gracing a salad with dressing and basil.
It is always fascinating at this time of year to see what is on offer to be planted in the next weeks for the summer ahead — and the price of those precious seeds.
And that varies massively depending on variety.
A new beefsteak tomato called Belle F1, featured on the front cover of the latest edition of Mr Fothergill’s Seed Catalogue 2013, is being offered to gardeners at just 49p for a packet of ten seeds.
I always find it incredible the massive quantities that can be offered but I prefer just a few at lesser cost.
Take, for example, Roma Nano, from the Italian seed company Vita Simenti, which is being sold through Thompson & Morgan.
A packet costs £2.69 but that packet contains no less than 450 seeds. It is one of those cases where more is less.
I reckon most gardeners would prefer paying 50p for a packet of 50 — less outlay and much less waste too.
But, back to Belle.
Suitable for growing either in a greenhouse or in a sheltered spot outside, the plant’s hybrid vigour gives it good resistance to tobacco mosaic virus, fusarium and verticillium.
Unlike some beefsteaks, Belle F1 is said to do well even in poor summers and cooler conditions, while its flowers set their fruits readily — a handy attribute for our new pattern of summer weather.
It is said to be one of the best for an unheated greenhouse.
Belle F1 is of indeterminate habit so requires support and the removal of side-shoots to produce its heavy crop of large, firm, rather flattish, juicy fruits, which are perfect for slicing into rolls, adding to salads, grilling or baking.
Individual tomatoes weigh around 200 grammes and have an excellent flavour.
New and exclusive to Mr Fothergill’s as seed is another fine-tasting variety, Orange Paruche F1.
Staff at the company voted this number one in taste tests conducted at its trial ground in 2012.
This new cherry tomato beat even the renowned Sungold F1, which was many people’s, including mine, idea of the tastiest variety.
Orange Paruche F1 produces small, spherical, orange-skinned, little fruits about 2.5cm (1in) across in abundance. It is also indeterminate, has good disease resistance and can be grown either indoors or outdoors.
Mr Fothergill’s catalogue offers a large range of more than 40 tomatoes to suit all tastes, purposes and situations, including the basket-type Cherry Falls, which it introduced to UK gardeners recently, and the blight-resistant Losetto F1.
Back to price, just eight Losetto seeds cost £3.49 while at T&M six would cost £3.69.
Despite that, Losetto has been voted Which? best buy, which proves quantity is not all and that quality is key — as Losetto is the first of a new breed.
It is one that I had every intention of trying last year and will certainly have in 2013.
It is described as an outstanding, cascading bush tomato with built-in blight resistance. It produces masses of sweet and juicy cherry tomatoes that can be harvested over a long period from July to September.
It is said to be perfect for containers or planters in the greenhouse or on the patio but can also be planted in a sunny spot in the garden. It has a height and spread of just 30cm (12ins).
While it has taken several years to multiply enough seed to offer to Britain’s sweet pea lovers, Mr Fothergill’s now has enough of its four new and exclusive Solway varieties to offer them as plants as well.
The quartet — which comprises Solway Blue Vein, with 'flake’ patterned blooms, pink and white Solway Minuet, cerise bicolour Solway Serenade and maroon Solway Velvet — has been introduced by the Suffolk seedsman as part of its Year of the Sweet Pea celebration. Both Solway Minuet and Solway Serenade have received a prestigious Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.
Mr Fothergill’s was impressed by the performance of the Solway series in trials at RHS Wisley several years ago and bought the rights to them from their renowned breeder, the late J. Dickson 'Dick’ Place, from Cumbria.
The company then sent its stock seed to be bulked up in New Zealand, where the climate is well suited to the production of high-quality sweet pea seed. This process has taken five years.
All four British-bred varieties grow to no more than 120cm (48ins), making them rather more versatile than the conventionally taller types.
Their reduced height means they are suitable for container growing, while their semi self-supporting habit lessens the need for support in beds and borders. When grown in patio pots, the fragrance and beauty of the flowers can be appreciated at close quarters. They also make a most attractive, temporary hedge.
The sweetly scented Solways are notable for their freedom of flowering, producing masses of long-stemmed blooms whether for cutting or for garden decoration. As with all sweet peas, regular cutting encourages further flowering. Spring sowings of seed will produce flowering plants from mid-summer onwards.
A packet of 20 seeds of any of the four exclusive varieties costs £1.99, while a pack of three deep-rooted plugs of any costs £6.95 per pack, reducing for a quantity order.
There’s also a really nice sweet pea from Dobies. The pastel Promiscuity costs £1.99 for 25 seeds.
• Mr Fothergill’s is at www.mr-fothergills.co.uk or write to Mr Fothergill’s, Kentford, Suffolk CB8 7QB.
Dobies is at www.dobies.co.uk and Thompson and Morgan is at www.thompson-morgan.com