There are lots of new varieties on offer, some of which I will be recommending. But I’ll also mention some tried and tested award-winning vegetables and flowers too.
F1 varieties are more expensive than open-pollinated varieties, but it’s often worth spending extra money because hybrid vigour encourages good germination - which is particularly useful with reluctant germinators like parsnips. Also F1s crop at the same time - a useful attribute with leafy crops like spinach.
www.mr-fothergills.co.uk / 0845 371 0518
A well-balanced catalogue containing a large selection of flowers and vegetables with clear pictures showing Award of Garden merit (or AGM) varieties.
Some of Fothergill’s vegetable varieties have been sourced in Eastern Europe, an area where chemicals are not often used. These varieties tend to be strong, hardy and disease-free so they make excellent choices for organic gardeners and for those who garden in cooler conditions. These display the Vegetable Explorer logo. They include the violet-podded ‘Blauwschokker’ pea which is recommended for cool gardens. Mr Fothergill’s also sell a huge range of beans.
Many catalogues (including Mr Fothergill’s) are selling a new hybrid winter green, named ‘Petit Posy’. This cross between a Brussels sprout and kale resembles an open flowery sprout and it has a spring greens flavour. It will be much hardier than a sprout due to its kale parentage so this British-bred variety from Tozer Seeds is a breakthrough.
Fothergill’s new baby carrot with a conical shape, ‘Cascade F1’, is another new variety that should be good for early sowing in March.
Mr Fothergill’s are also selling seeds of a blight-resistant cherry tomato called ‘Losetto’. This bush-like variety made an appearance in some catalogues last year and it would make an ideal outdoor tomato. However do be aware that grafted tomato plants are now on offer to the home gardener. These shrug off disease, due to being grown on disease-free rootstocks, and traditional varieties like ‘Sungold’ are available.
On the flower side a fully double, burgundy cosmos, ‘Double Click Cranberries’ and an intricate pink and white picotee, ‘Sweet Kisses’, are both worth growing. Cosmos are easy annuals to grow and hardy enough to flower into late-autumn. Gauras provide the same late flowers and the airy ‘Pink Bride’ is tall enough to look willowy. ( 36- 48 in/ 90 -120cm) Sown in spring these perennials will flower in their first year.
Dobies of Devon
www.dobies.co.uk / 0844 701 7624
These are vegetable specialists who also sell some flower seeds, plugs and young plants plus some fruit. Their range of grafted tomato plants (usually three for ten pounds) is extensive. They also sell grafted peppers, aubergines and melons as do Suttons. The catalogue is well laid out and NIAB and AGM varieties are clearly shown.
Dobies sell a hybrid bean called ‘Moonlight’, which has been around for three years now. The cream flowers produce a long succession of plump beans with a French bean profile and runner bean shape. This variety will crop whatever the weather and it will keep going much longer than most runner beans. It is the first hybrid of its type but more are following.
The tender cobs of Sweetcorn ‘Mirai M130 F1’ can be eaten raw off the plant because it’s a tender sweet variety.
The sweet pea ‘Royal Romance’, which is new to Dobies, is a sweetly scented two-tone blue with wide-keeled flowers.
www.suttons.co.uk / 0844 922 0606
A catalogue covering vegetables and flowers with all the best sellers easily identified, although sometimes these varieties have been superseded.
Among the best of the tried and tested F1 varieties are Leek ‘Carlton’, Parsnip ‘Gladiator and a cylindrical beetroot called ‘Alto’ all of which I grow.
Look out for the lime-green, annual umbel labelled Bupleurum ‘Chatterbox’: it makes the most perfect foil for orange calandulas like fiery French marigolds. The double mixture of marigold, labelled ‘Bo Jangle’ would be perfect and the Bupleurum will self-seed.
Suttons also sell my favourite Gloriosa daisy, Rudbeckia hirta ‘Indian Summer’, with large yellow daisies middled neatly in brown. These are the largest, bright-yellow saucers of all and they are adored by butterflies. This variety was awarded an AGM in the 2000 trial along with a miniature variety called ‘Toto’.
Plants of Distinction and Simply Vegetables
www.plantsofdistinction.co.uk / 01449 721720
A refined collection of seeds designed to appeal to the committed garden with strong ranges of cottage-garden violas, scabious, antirrhinum and calendulas along with many others. Look for the hose in hose primula seeds labelled ‘You and Me’ (bred in Eastern Europe) and the ‘Paradisio’ mixture of echinaceas. There’s also a bright-pink echinacea, ‘Pow Pow Wild Berry’ . The four zinnias in ‘cordial’ shades of lime, raspberry, mango and blackcurrant look good, although these half hardy annuals need warmth to thrive. They are not for cold, exposed gardens. If you do grow them, nip out the plants to bush them up otherwise the top ‘king’ bud will take forever to open.
The Simply Vegetable catalogue has strong ranges of peppers, aubergines and tomatoes and rather up market vegetables. Among the best are the round pumpkin-like squash ‘Orange Queen F1’, which needs storing until mid-November to develop a chestnut flavour. The carrot Root Fly resistant carrot ‘Sirocco F1’ will suit organic gardeners and those who grow on allotments where fly is a problem. A red version of ‘Little Gem’, named ‘Dazzle’ is very flavourful and decorative and the all-female cucumber, ‘Euphya F1’ is a customer favourite recommended for cooler gardens. I always grow their Eastern European variety ‘Iznik F1’ an outdoor snack box cucumber that’s very prolific.
The leek, ‘Oarsman F1’ is British-bred and a great improvement on older varieties because the flesh is much more digestible. Also my favourite sweetcorn, ‘Lark Improved’ is perfect for British gardens, even cool ones, because it crops early. Finally the heritage tomatoes includes the very tasty ‘Red Zebra’.
www.marshalls-seeds.co.uk / 01480 44 33 90
This kitchen garden specialist concentrates on good varieties for the gardener and value, whether it’s fruit or vegetable. They have staged Gold Medal winning varieties at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show and some of their varieties display a rosette indicating their exhibition appeal. Most gardeners will opt for flavour instead and a knife and fork logo highlights their tastiest varieties. Marshalls also sell a range of young vegetable plants.
Marshalls have a special gift pack for gardeners that includes a pruning knife, a planting wheel, a selection of seeds and Joy Larkcom’s Grow Your Own Vegetables (value £37.00 @ £19.99). This smart and stylish gift pack could make a perfect present - especially for a man.
Look out for the winter cabbage ‘Marabel F1’ AGM (an improvement on ‘January King’) and the grey-skinned squash ‘Invincible’ an improvement on ‘Crown Prince’. Grey-skinned squashes store for longer than orange-skinned ones.
Saga Readers can claim one free packet of seeds when they order ten. Quote Saga Offer when calling, or on the website insert Saga in the Promotional Voucher box at the checkout. Telephone 01480 44 33 90 if there’s a problem.
Thompson & Morgan
www.thompson-morgan.com / 0844 573 1818
A popular catalogue with gardeners containing vegetables and flower, although sometimes seed amounts are small. Seeds are interspersed with plug plants in the catalogue. Strengths include a selection of AGM vegetable varieties, useful for beginners, as these tried and tested varieties have been trialled by RHS experts - some connected with T & M.
Look out for jumbo plugs of Verbascum ‘Blue Lagoon’ a plant that came third in the Plant of the Year Competition held at the Chelsea Flower Show last May. This is a breakthrough colour and the yellow ‘Buttercup’ and the copper-orange ‘Clementine’ are also available at a rather eye-watering price - £7.99. There are lots of colourful novelties too.
Foxgloves also feature including the ‘Camelot Series F1’ which are unique because they flower in their first year. If you want more height and grace opt for the red-spotted white ‘Pam’s Choice’. There is also an orchid form with a split corolla ‘Pam’s Split’ which you’ll either love or hate.
There are several excellent annuals including calendula ‘Neon’. Three white umbellifers of note are Orlaya grandiflora, Ammi visnaga and Ammi majus and all three do best from late-autumn sowings. Award winning varieties include Marigold ‘Sunburst Mixed’ and the striking orange and purple F1 pansy ‘Jolly Joker’.
This strong vegetable selection includes the new clubroot-resistant Brussels sprout ‘Crispus’ and ideal choice for garden and allotment. The early cropping ‘Nelson’ and the maincrop ‘Bosworth’ ( both AGMs) are also excellent. The smooth-skinned purple carrot, ‘Purple Haze’, does very well in dry summers.
Finally there’s a strong selection of seed potatoes and the salad variety ‘Harlequin’ makes a welcome return after three years of absence. This ‘Anya’ x ‘Charlotte cross has a gourmet flavour and it prodices much larger potatoes than ‘Anya’. This is the best potato catalogue of all.
www.dtbrownseeds.co.uk / 0845 371 0532
A well laid out catalogue mainly full of vegetables and fruit pluds some flowers. The emphasis is on the keen grower, with varieties for kitchen and show bench. There is an ultimate allotment selection that sells for £49.99 (saving £24.00) and a larger selection for £79.99 that would save £33.00. Varieties are easy to assess as all the peas are on one page -not dotted about. AGMs are marked. The popular varieties are also marked as DTB choices.
Look out for the British-bred pea Jaguar, a good pea for succession sowing and peas (lovers of cooler conditions) can be sown from March until early August.
www.unwins.co.uk / 01480 44 33 95
An amalgamated seed, plant and bulb catalogue that includes perennials, fruit and vegetable seeds. Young pot-grown plants, fruit and bare-root perennials are also available, although the range is basic.
If you enjoy growing sweet peas from seed however, Unwins still have the best range on offer in my opinion, although there are specialist suppliers like Owl Acre too. Unwin’s varieties include old favourites like ‘Gwendoline’ (a frilled pink) and new varieties like the navy and white flaked and striped ‘Moonlight’. The first 17 pages are crammed with sweet peas - historically an Unwin’s speciality.