2012 seed choices of the experts


It’s time to take refuge from the elements and compile your list of seeds for the season. But first, we ask what is on the wish-lists of experienced gardeners, writes FIONNUALA FALLON

IF EVER THERE was an annual January ritual to lift the hearts of rain-soaked, wind-blown and winter-weary Irish gardeners everywhere, it’s the time-honoured practice of sitting down with pen and paper, a largish glass (or two) of wine and a neat stack of seed catalogues, ink-fresh from the printers. Because when one feels about as much inclination to work out of doors as to go skinny dipping in the Atlantic ocean, ordering seeds is one of the few very necessary gardening “chores” that can be performed while seated snugly inside, preferably by a crackling log fire. With that in mind, this week’s column takes a look at what new, unusual or interesting vegetable and salad varieties will be tickling the taste buds of some of the country’s most experienced gardeners this coming summer.

For the west Cork-based garden writer and veteran vegetable grower Joy Larkcom, it will be the white carrot ‘White Satin’ (available from Mr Fothergills and from Thompson Morgan). “I’ve always had a soft spot for the white ones, originally grown as fodder carrots but with notably good resistance to carrot fly. Last year the white carrots, even though the seed was three years old, produced much better carrots than some conventional ones grown at the same time. They were large and I noted ‘excellent flavour’. So don’t be put off by the colour,” she says.

New additions to the catalogue of Madeline McKeever’s award-winning, organically- certified Brown Envelopes Seeds company include a black-and-white striped aubergine called ‘Listada de Ganda’. It is a perennial Bolivian hairy chilli (Capsicum pubescens), and several exotic tomato varieties first recommended to her by Jean Perry of Glebe Gardens in Baltimore. In particular, look out for ‘Chocolate Stripe’, a dark brown tomato with even darker stripes and sweet delicious flesh.

For Hans Wieland of The Organic Centre in Co Leitrim, the highlights of his 2012 vegetable garden will include beetroot ‘Cylindra’, as well as the distinctively-striped tomato, ‘Tigerella’. He’ll also be growing the tasty and prolific sugarsnap pea ‘Sugar Ann’, the decorative, rhubarb chard ‘Vulkan’ and ‘Jack Be Little’ which is “probably the smallest (cricket-ball size) but tastiest pumpkin”. Certified-organic seed of all these varieties can be ordered from the centre.

This spring also sees the launch of The Vegetable Seed Company, the new business venture of the Leitrim-based, professional organic gardener, Klaus Laitenberger in partnership with Andrew Davidson and Niall McAllister of Quickcrop (quickcrop.ie). With the emphasis on only the most reliable and tastiest vegetables, the VSC catalogue includes some interesting and unusual selections. One is the natural sweetener Stevia rebaudiana, while company also offers a sprouting broccoli mix that will be productive from December until May; a cabbage mix for all seasons – “for us lazy gardeners,” says Laitenberger – and an oriental salad mix that includes some of the very best varieties, such as the mustards ‘Green Frills’ and ‘Red Frills’ and Mizuna ‘Red Knight’.

When it comes to growing food, Dublin-based organic gardener Nicky Kyle readily admits that “I have absolutely no self control”. Her lengthy 2012 seed wish list includes five new lettuces – ‘Navarra’, ‘Roger’ and ‘Noisette’ (from The Organic Centre) – as well as two heirloom varieties – ‘Blonde Maraichere’ and ‘Forenschluss’ (Chiltern Seeds). She’s also planning to grow the leafy vegetable known as Minutina, a member of the plantain family which has a very “grown-up, bitter taste similar to chicory (from Simpsons Seeds, Seedaholic)”. It can be blanched and is lovely with a fruity and sweet orange dressing, she says.

Other plants on her must-have list include red-leafed Perilla, the rose-scented relative of lemon grass known as “geranium grass” or Palma rosa (Chiltern Seeds) and the yellow courgette variety ‘Atena’ (Suttons Seeds), which she describes as “sweet and utterly delicious – far better than any other courgette, including the green ones”.

This year, experienced grower Dermot Carey will be bringing his expertise to the walled kitchen garden of award-winning Harry’s Bar Restaurant in the Inishowen Peninsula in Co Donegal. As well as the UK-based seed company, Tamar Organics and the renowned Maine-based suppliers, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Carey lists Chase Organic Seeds (deelish.ie for Irish stockists) as one of his favourite suppliers. “Along with the fantastically flavoursome tomato variety ‘Favorita’, the sugarsnap pea and the very reliable pumpkin ‘Muscade de Provence’, we’re looking forward to growing a lot of unusual summer and winter squashes for the restaurant this summer, including the varieties ‘Delicata’ and ‘Sweet Dumpling’,” says Carey.

Sue Barnes of the Westport-based seed company Seedaholic, is another fan of the hardy, leafy salad crop, Minutina (also known as Erba Stella), while this year Seedaholic is also stocking seed of the highly productive Chinese broccoli, Kailan ‘Kichi’ and the high-yielding, purple asparagus variety ‘Crimson Pacific’. Other unusual vegetable or salad leaf varieties sold by this small but highly regarded seed company include the perennial form of wild rocket known as ‘A Foglio Di Olivio’, and the rare, celery-flavoured Alexanders or Smyrnium olusatrum.

For Matteo Pettiti of organic seed suppliers Irish Seed Savers, the loose-leafed, cut-and-come again lettuce varieties ‘Veneziana’ and ‘Outredgous’, the reliably high-yielding, heirloom variety of acorn squash known as ‘Table Queen’, the black-seeded runner bean ‘Black Knight’, and the compact Irish heritage pea variety ‘Daniel O’Rourke’ are amongst the highlights of ISSA’s 2012 catalogue. Also new to the catalogue is a native Irish cabbage known as Flat Dutch cabbage – seed of which was sourced from a garden in Cork.

Next week’s column will look at new and interesting flower varieties that some of Ireland’s well-known gardeners and nursery-owners will be growing from seed this spring