The best and most interesting vegetables to grow

Val Bourne

Acclaimed gardening writer, Val Bourne unearths an unusual selection of vegetable varieties - and names her ten favourite varieties



Older varieties of vegetables can be more satisfying to grow both for their looks and durability. Garden Organic (024 7630 3517 www.gardenorganic.org.uk) have a Heritage Seed Library which you can join if you are a member. You are allowed to choose six different varieties from a catalogue of 180 (all commercially unavailable) vegetables. Some are very decorative.

The seed company DT Brown are also selling varieties from Eastern Europe. These come from areas once on the other side of the Iron Curtain so they are likely to be hardy, prolific and disease resistant. The cherry tomato 'Bejbino' can be grown indoors and out. There are also two brassicas - the cabbage Kalibos (a conical-headed red) and 'Curly Scarlet' (a hardy red kale)

Pea 'Junos' is a very early hardy pea. Leek 'Starozagorski Kamus' is a fast-growing, early variety with long, white shanks. Beetroot 'Monorubra' has long cylindrical roots and Cucumber 'Vista' is a productive, all-female long 'cue' variety. Pepper 'Hamik' is a seedless orange pepper and Carrot 'Jitka' has large, blunt-ended roots. Finally Kohl Rabi'Violetta' is a blue turnip-like vegetable best cooked. Go online www.dtbrownseeds.co.uk or telephone 0845 3710532.

My ten favourite varieties

1. Leek 'St Victor'

Red-to-purple leek - sumptuous in winter (The Organic Gardening Catalogue).

Find out how to grow leeks.

2. Kale 'Cavolo Nero'

The Tuscan black kale which looks handsome and tastes delicious. Catches the raindrop beautifully (Seeds of Italy).

3. Potato 'Belle de Fontenay'

French Maincrop introduced in 1885. This is a great salad potato and a baker with well-flavoured, waxy yellow flesh. Handsome in growth too (D. T Brown).

4. Bean 'Blauhilde'

Climbing, self-fertile purple bean capable of cropping in damp weather when the bees can't get there. Dark foliage and violet flowers (Thompson & Morgan).

5. Pea 'Hurst Greenshaft'

Tall, long-podded pea with a sweet flavour and every shoot bears two pods (widely available).

Find out how to grow peas.

6. Aubergine 'Bellezza Nera'

Fluted wide fruits in purple-mauve rather than aubergine (Johnson’s World Kitchen).

Find out how to grow aubergines.

7. Courgette 'Romanesco'

Ridged green and yellow courgettes with a nutty flavour (Seeds of Italy).

8. Florence Fennel 'Finale'

Bolt-resistant variety with feathery leaves and large white bulbs (Johnson’s World Kitchen).

9. Lettuce 'Nymans'

A glossy red cos lettuce slow to mature (Thompson & Morgan).

10. Winter Squash 'Sunshine'

A rambling Japanese squash which crops well in poor summers - producing round pumpkin-like fruits which store. Bake them in winter - they taste like chestnuts (Thompson & Morgan).

Find out how to grow winter squash.

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