Exotica is just a click away now

By Richard Wright

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Exotica is just a click away now

Queen of Hearts tomato plants. Pictures by BELLA WRIGHT


IN MY near six decades a lot of mystery has vanished from the world.

Part of that is caused by the globalisation of plants through genesis worldwide and instant internet access to markets far and near.

That is a great shame because there was delight in difficulty.

Many, I am certain, will derive pleasure from the memories of holidays both near and far, finding exotic packets of seeds, unusual plants from which seed was extracted, even cuttings wrapped in dampened paper, nurtured to rooting back in Blighty.

It was an effort to smuggle them home. The pleasure of creating a plant memory of a holiday past was immense and some still mark a point in time in the garden.

There are silly things too.

I now know I should not have done it, and I would not again, but in the naivety of youth I even brought back an hibiscus I had not seen before, from Greece, in its pot in my hold luggage, and that’s a real no-no as we all know. You really do not want to import soil. It can have all manner of pests and diseases. And, of course, plant material and seeds are on the banned list too.

Despite that, I have brought back dwarf French beans, from France, where the neat, hoed rows were magical; architectural and unusual alliums from a magical, disused castle in Greece; big-podded seeds from St Lucia in the Caribbean, which never came to anything, and acacia from Spain, which did.

In recent times, there have been myriad gifts too. Strange little string beans from Madeira, Moroccan mint, heritage beans and the South American native of last week, Yacon.

This week there’s a tomato and an aubergine from Italy, but the magic’s gone out of it somehow.

My Italian is less than brilliant — restricted as it is to 'two beers, please’ — but now, with the internet, it doesn’t need to be.

The answers are all out there, where it would have been a scrabble for a book, or a visit to the library to find meaning.

But the 'wonder’ of the internet tells me that the tomato (pomodoro) Constoluto Florentino and the aubergine (melanzana) Violetta di Firenze are both now widely available in this country — although probably not in such nice packets.

I’ll be growing both, just the same.

The pomodoro comes from the area around Florence — and after a past disaster I have checked this is an indeterminate — not a bush — and is suitable for the greenhouse without taking it over.

It produces medium-large, old-fashioned, misshapen, heavy, ribbed beefsteak tomatoes. The planting information is the same, whether it be for this country or continental Europe

Sow them in pots or trays using a finely sieved moist compost, covering the seed with 6mm (¼ins) layer.

Place in a propagator, on a windowsill or in the greenhouse maintaining 18C to 21C (65F to 70F).

Transplant the resulting seedlings, when large enough to handle, individually into 75mm (3ins) pots and grow on.

An alternative method is to plant a single seed per pot.

Largely with tomatoes, germination rates are high, and it will prevent the bother of pricking out.

When the first flower buds are showing, plant out singly into 25cm to 30cm (10ins to 12ins) pots, grow bags (three plants per bag) or direct into the greenhouse border 45cm (18ins) apart.

Start feeding when the first tiny fruits appear.

The melanzana (auber-gine) is also described as a finely flavoured Italian variety, ideal for greenhouse or conservatory.

It will have large, heavy, oval fruits, even if not of the violet colour on the pack.

Harvest from late July to early October.

The growing instructions are the same as tomatoes, and, like them, they can also be grown in large pots, which can help best utilise greenhouse space.

On the subject of tomatoes, Eddie Grove, who kindly supplied me with some of the Island’s own Queen of Hearts seeds, which I posted off to interested gardeners, tells me, there may have been germination problems.

He planted one batch with very limited success. The second? He was overrun and has a surplus.

Queen of Hearts is an Island hybrid created by Stan Jackson and it deserves to be preserved. Eddie is doing his best to do just that.

He has given me his surplus, which I am nurturing in my greenhouse and I have a dozen or so spare.

When I have worked out an easy way of you getting hold of them, I’ll make them available and donate any proceeds to the Send a Cow charity, which provides livestock to the parts of the world finding it so hard to drag themselves from poverty.

Save time with planting short cuts

AS WE arrive in the planting season, there are a few handy hints that can make things a good deal easier.

Onion sets, planted in holes in my weed mat, are just a matter of 30 minutes’ work to plant a couple of hundred.

Being fond of familiar objects, I have had the same onion-planting stick for years, which is used to poke an onion-sized impression in the soil.

The set is inserted and the soil very gently squeezed around it. If the set is damaged it will probably pick up disease.

I have long been a super-fan of peas, even before I went on a picnic and scrumped goodness knows how many pounds from a farmer’s field, which, of course, should never be done.

Feltham First is my early variety of choice but last year there was a new pea on the block, which does not seem to have made it into the D. T. Brown catalogue this time.

It was called Style and it was a compact semi-leafless (afila) type, which I found very productive with masses of juicy peas, if not quite as tasty as the tried and tested Feltham.

Whatever the variety, peas like well-composted ground because they are hungry eaters and hate weed competition.

I have tried the gutter-planting trick, but one I find easier and less unwieldy is planting in two seed trays at a time with a gap down the middle, which allows the compost to be sliced with a knife at planting out time.

Two seed trays’ worth, when separated, will make a substantial row.

Repeat in three weeks’ time and there will be a nice succession of one of the sweetest vegetables, which are delicious raw.

Reporter: richardw@iwcpmail.co.uk

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