Seeds and varieties, my tips
Which seed variety to buy? These have worked for me, over several seasons. Updated February 2023
Seed sourcing and freshness
I have had good results with seed from Real Seeds and Tozers Seeds (commercial/large quantities only), and biodynamic growers Seed Co-operative (greenhouses in Lincs) and Bingenheim Saatgut, whose seeds are now available through The Seed Co-operative and Tamar Organics. Check out Seaspring Seeds, see French beans below, and also worth a try is eBay!
As I understand it, apart from Real Seeds, Tozers, Bingenheim, Franchi (Seeds of Italy), Sativa Rheingau in Switzerland, and Seed Co-operative, most seed has similar origins in multinational seed houses. The seed may be older or younger, according to how much stock of old seed is carried by each operation. The information you see is “packeted year ending”!
This ties in with how we need to save more seed, for our own security and success.
See my July 2022 video about seed saving and storage, and this 2017 Saving Seed video. See also my archived September 2008 blog, also October 2011 for saving seed of runner beans and Borlotti. Mostly it is difficult and skilful work to save good seed. Time must be available at certain key moments. Real Seeds offer good advice on this.
Gardeners in Europe
For those on mainland Europe, I point you to Bingenheimer and Sativa as above.
Plus I have a suggestion from Daniela in France to mention Reinsaat (reinsaat.at), “quite similar to Bingenheimer seeds, they share some of the suppliers.
And the french Ferme de Sainte Marthe (fermedesaintemarthe.com), organic seed producers with a lovely choice of seeds.”
Most of us suffer poor germination from one or more batch of seeds. Often we blame ourselves, unless we have a comparison with another sowing made at the same time and with different seeds. I often do the latter and am shocked at the variability of seed quality.
Comparing germination of the same vegetable, with seeds sourced from more than one supplier, reveals mainly the age of seeds. Old ones germinate slowly and erratically. Also they grow less strongly.
Do complain to the seed company if this happens to you! And save your own seed where possible, because then you know it is fresh, as long as you harvest it correctly.
“Open-pollinated” means normal/natural breeding has produced that variety of vegetable, and you can save seeds from it. Breeders need to maintain these OP varieties by selection of harvests to grow seeds from.
Many OP’s are well maintained. It’s a reason why I appreciate companies like Bingenheimer, Sativa, Seed Co-op, Real Seeds, and Vital Seeds, who are conscientious in their seed production.
However, OP seed production apparently earns less money than breeding F1 hybrids. Probably because of that, the maintenance of OP varietal traits is being allowed to slip.
- For example, Gardener’s Delight tomato in the 1980s was a small, sweet cherry, whereas many ‘Gardener’s Delight’ seeds now grow larger and less sweet fruit, with tougher skins and paler colour. The seed packet has the same name, but results are different. UPDATE withdrawal of new seed happened for two years while it was being restored, and when you know buy this variety, it should be much better and closer to the 1980s original..
- Since 2019, many of us have experienced disappointment with Greyhound cabbage, which is not inclined to make the tight heart it used to, even after waiting and waiting.
- Boltardy beetroot is not the force it was. Seed producers are not paid enough to weed out (rogue) the misshapen beetroots before they seed, so root quality is declining. I have seen this a lot since 2020 – see this video, for example, and the photo below. Another factor is that some fields of beetroot grown for seed are a little bit too close to fields of Ruby chard, and the pollen can cross-pollinate, resulting in beetroots with small edible root and large thick stems. Pretty, but not the desired result. UPDATE in 2021, I saved seed from eight beetroots, and grew them in 2022, with great results. This is certainly an option if you have time and space.
- Be wary of the word “heirloom”, which means only that a variety originated x years ago, and does not guarantee quality, or even flavour sometimes. A Which? Gardening trial in 2021 found the top two varieties for best flavour and yield were both F1 (Big League and Burlesque).
“Hybrids”prefixed “F1”, are from two inbred lines of breeding to achieve desired results, which are then cross-pollinated in isolation. They grow reliably, of a uniform size, can have excellent flavour such as Sungold tomato, and they mature uniformly – this may or may not be what you wish for. It can be frustrating for broccoli in the summer!
Do not save seeds from hybrid vegetables, because they do not grow true and plants are nothing like the parent you saved seed from. I know this from saving seed then trying to grow Sungold F1 tomato. They were hopeless and horrible!
Choosing a decent variety/cultivar can make all the difference, and chicories for hearts of radicchio are a good example. I had this comment from Wim in the Netherlands, which echoes my experience. The variety I recommend is 506TT, see below:
“In one of your videos you mention a variety of radicchio from Bingenheimer Saatgut. As we are very fond of Palla Rossa chicory I grow it ever since I had my allotment. But often the heads were diseased or even rotten before they were big enough. This year I ordered some Bingenheim seeds: what a difference! Very large healthy heads and not a brown leaf showing! Since I discovered your site and videos gardening is much easier and more fun! And, a bit reluctantly, your ideas are also spreading among my fellow gardeners.”
*Learn more about seeds in my ‘Propagation’ knowledge pack*
My recommended varieties
An asterisk (*) indicates vegetables that grow in half a season (in southern Britain, zones 7-8 roughly), so they can be grown before or after other half-season vegetables. For example, carrots then oriental leaves or endives, lettuce then beetroot or bulb fennel, autumn sown beans then leeks or kale, second early potatoes then leeks or broccoli. Italics are for varieties I strongly recommend.
One planting can last for more than 20 years, so choose carefully, and buy good quality crowns or seeds. I recommend all-male hybrid varieties, because the spears are fat and the ferns do not grow berries. The latter usually have viable seeds which can become quite a weed, because you end up with too many plants and thin spears.
Ariane F1 is good to buy as seed, sown asap early spring. Transplant early summer is an option. First harvest will be perhaps one year later than if you buy and plant crowns. Having said that, in 2022 the growth of new seedlings by October was almost as strong as from crowns I had planted in April.
Needs warmth, is best grown under cover. I struggle more often than succeed, because in SW England our summers are rarely hot enough. However, in the last eight summers I have enjoyed good harvests from Black Pearl F1, and even bigger ones from grafted plants of the same variety, however, these are now harder to find after Delfland nurseries stopped doing retail sales of plants, because they just did not pay. On that note, it’s not easy to buy good transplants, as I keep being told!
In open pollinated varieties, I like Zora and de Barbentane. In the hot summer of 2022, the growth of de Barbentane was quite remarkable.
The old favourite runner bean varieties such as Scarlett Emperor are good, as long as they have been well maintained by the seed companies. From what I hear, results are variable.
An excellent climbing French bean is Cobra. Or Golden Gate for yellow and flat pods. Borlotti beans are tasty both as green pods, and for dry seeds if you have a long summer.
Boltardy used to be good, see above, especially from sowing as early as February in plugs or pots in warm conditions. I have been successful with early Boltardy since 1983, but now recommend Pablo F1, more expensive for sure. Or save your own seed, see photo above.
Seed companies have not maintained the variety, and it’s getting worse. In 2020, as well as the two companies in my photos, I heard of bad results from Mr Fothergills Boltardy seeds.
For later sowings from mid April you can sow Boldor and Touchstone Gold for a different flavour and yellow colour, Chioggia gives pretty pink and white stripes when cut, while Cheltenham Green Top is long, sweet and stands well in winter. For winter use, sow from early May to mid June. Also Robuschka, Cylindra, Detroit and many others.
For sowing in autumn to overwinter, Aquadulce Claudia is reliable and develops great flavour if beans are allowed to mature until white and creamy. It also crops well from sowing by early March. Masterpiece Green Longpod has tasty green beans, sown from February, and Green Windsor has arguably the best flavour of all.
Monica or de Monica grows a smaller plant 1.2m/4ft high, with pods of 4-5 pale coloured, sweet beans. Broad Bean Wizard, from Real Seeds are great over winter, and produce a tasty crop in May, with many small pods.
Broad beans are definitely worth saving seed from, but for a variety to stay true, there must be no other variety growing within as much as 50 m. This makes it difficult on allotment sites where many varieties are normally flowering at the same time. I now grow only Aquadulce and I am in about my 15th year of seed saving. Seeds store reasonably well, for up to 3 years.
Broccoli (also see calabrese below)
A common broccoli in climates with mild winters is Purple Sprouting to overwinter, and sowing in June is good for this. I grew Early Purple Sprouting and Late Purole Sprouting for many years, with fair results. However the shoots were thinner every year – lack of maintenance.
Then I tried Claret F1 and have not looked back – large main heads in April, followed by many secondary broccoli shoots, finishing by mid to end May. Worth every penny for this seed!
- Try also Kaibroc and Brokali, for small plants which are very fast at heading into small spears. Sow as late as the end of July, for cropping in October onwards, even into winter. Tenderstem F1 gives repeat picks with sweet shoots.
And once again as with so many vegetables, the open pollinated, old-fashioned, heirloom, heritage, varieties have not been well maintained for the most part. I receive many questions from people who ask why their Brussels sprouts are not growing firm buttons, and it’s because they are growing the non-hybrids.
Last winter, I spoke with a veteran of the seed trade who had been seed breeding for 40 years. He commented no, and he emphasised the no, Brussels sprouts that are open pollinated are worth growing, compared to yield and quality from hybrids. He said for example that Evesham Special is anything BUT special! I feel we are being taken for a ride here!
Fresh, well grown Brussels have lovely flavours, with less bitterness than is sometimes found in bought buttons. Doric F1, Braemar F1 and Trafalgar F1 have always grown well for me as medium to late croppers from December to March, while Marte F1 and Brigitte F1 are excellent for cropping September to December.
Flower Sprouts / kalettes (F1 hybrid cross with kale) have open buttons of sweeter flavour, especially in mid winter. They grow large plants, are worthwhile
I am wary of caterpillars in hearting autumn cabbage but using mesh over June plantings, for nine weeks, makes it possible to have some good hearts. Or spray Bacillus Thuringiensis if you can buy it, see Links page under Learn.
Try Piacenza (savoy type) and Quintal d’Alsace from Real Seeds, while Filderkraut from Mr Fothergills and Bingenheim makes large, pointed hearts which are tender and delicious in coleslaw or for sauerkraut. In November 2011 I harvested hearts of 5-6kg (24 inch spacing) and they were so sweet, but 2012 hearts were only 1kg because I planted them too late (10th July) in a cool summer.
For red cabbage I like Rodynda and Granat. They both keep for 2-3 months in my shed from a harvest in late autumn.
Sow autumn cabbage for hearting in mid May for planting by mid June. For spring cabbage sown late August, all varieties I have grown have performed well, more for leaves than tight hearts. Examples are Wheelers Imperial, and Duncan, F1, the latter for small hearts, while Wheelers is more for green leaves, over a long period.
Savoy cabbage Paresa F1 can be sown June, planted July to harvest in late winter, when greens are so welcome. Savoy hearts are frost hardy.
For large, tight heads try F1 hybrids such as Belstar, Green Magic, Ironman and Marathon. More stem and smaller heads over a long period come from Apollo F1. Harvests of smaller shoots and over a longer period are given by open pollinated varieties such as Green Sprouting.
Bingenheim seeds do an excellent open pollinated variety, Calinaro. In 2015 I sowed it June 20th and planted after broad beans, for heavy crops in October.
Early Nantes, for early and later sowings, grow vigorously to a fair size, with good sweetness. Raymond Blanc’s tasting team gave it top marks in a 2014 trial of 32 varieties. Berlicum and Autumn King varieties are good for sowing by mid June, to store through winter. Coloured varieties have variable vigour: yellow ones grow easily, purple ones are more tricky, all have different flavours.
For winter harvests of great flavour and storing quality, try the stump rooted Oxhella, and longer Flakee, best sown in June. First week of July even.
It’s fun to grow coloured cauliflowers such as Purple Graffiti F1, and Sunset which is yellow or orange. Verde di Macerata from Real Seeds grows, beautiful and quite large green curds, which mature over more than a month from one sowing date. Romanesco cauliflower is beautiful and worth sowing around the middle of June, for harvests in late autumn. They stand the first frosts of autumn..
The old variety All Year Round is reliable to sow at any stage. Some varieties such as Medallion F1 and Aalsmeer are for summer sowing (second half of July here), to crop eventually in the spring.
Hybrid varieties such as Victoria F1 (Tozers) are a leap forward compared to the old-fashioned Golden Self Blanching and Tall Utah. I rate Victoria as best of the bunch, by some margin. There are also fun varieties which have a pink flush on their stems, and Granada F1 which resists Septoria blight in the autumn. And there is Chinese leaf celery, for leaf/stalk harvests.
A large trial at Raymond Blanc’s garden revealed few differences in flavour and growth. I find that Prinz has slightly healthier autumn leaves (less Septoria) than Ibis, although both grow to a fine size. In 2015 I tried Monarch and Mars, finding both to be good, and the Mars in particular carried on growing into November, with healthier leaves than other varieties which can suffer septoria (“late blight”) here (we are in a damp hollow) from about August in wet summers and autumns. Giant Prague matures late, with flatter roots of fine flavour.
Leaf chicory is bitter while the heads are bitter-sweet, best sown after mid June, to reduce bolting. A last sowing around 12th-15th July is good for heads in November even December, in Somerset. Fine red radicchios should develop from Palla Rossa varieties, especially 506TT from Bingenheim, which also stands well, see my video.
I find Marzatica from Seeds of Italy makes variable heads and about half are firm. They are complemented by amazing pink and yellow colours of varieties such as Lusia, Romea, and Castelfranco, but these do not stand well, tending to rot soon after the heads are firm.
The Treviso type 206TT is remarkably consistent, from sowing in July to harvest before Christmas. They are beautiful, bittersweet and so welcome for the late period of harvest. Sometimes the outer leaves look rotten, but you can still find a nice head inside.
I like Seeds of Italy’s selection, which emphasises how all shapes, colours and sizes are possible! Genovese and Striato of Naples have grown well here. Early Gem F1 has grown well for me since 1984, as has Defender F1. F1 varieties produce more fruit and less plant!
I find that yellow varieties are less productive. Remember that courgettes are simply under-grown marrows, of the summer squash family: see winter squashes for Butternut et al. Pumpkins are different again, see below.
All-female cucumbers for growing undercover are expensive in seed, and highly productive. I like Carmen F1 for large size fruits and Passandra F1 for half-size cucumbers, and I grow them up strings. See this video about deleafing plants for health and productivity.
Outdoor cucumbers need less training and fruits are less regular, especially La Diva, while Tanya cucumbers are more even, and prickly like many outdoor (‘ridge’) cucumbers – just peel the skin before eating. Home grown are tasty, you should notice a big difference compared to what you can buy.
For large leaved scaroles, try Bubikopf and Diva, which keep healthier than many others (less browning at the margins). Bingenheim’s Diva is excellent for this.
For a frizzy endive, try Frenzy (seeds on EBay) for a long season of picking, then cutting and plants can crop for 12 weeks from a June sowing. Also I like Wallone and Fine Maraichere for a long harvest season, pickable of outer leaves like lettuce, Aery F1 for high yields, and Bianca Riccia da Taglio (Real Seeds) for luminous and tasty leaves, of a bright yellow, highly decorative colour. Of all these my winter favourite is Aery F1, for its amazing vigour.
Some I like include Tree Spinach (Simply Vegetables), which has beautiful magenta shoots all the time while it grows up to five feet high by August, watercress for its (invasive) vigour and flavour, and lime basil for stunning citrus aromas and tastes. Trials of oca in 2013-15 were successful, though be wary of mice eating the tubers in late autumn, and yields were not high.
Sweet potatoes are worthwhile only undercover – Carolina Ruby was my most productive variety, see October 2013. In 2019’s warm summer and in the polytunnel, I harvested two wheelbarrows of leaf and stem, but only 4kg of sweet potatoes.
Yacon is worth growing if you can buy a plant, order in winter for spring delivery eg from Real Seeds. I harvested 10kg from two plants, tubers are sweet but low in calories.
Bulb or Florence fennel (two names, same plant)
There are two seasons of harvest, separated by flowering in June. Make the first sowing on a windowsill in February to mid March, or sow in July, even until early August. The two seasons of bulbing are early summer and mid to late autumn.
Zefa Fino and Perfektion are grow good bulbs. In 2013 I trialled five varieties and found few differences, except for Solaris F1 bulbing better from the June sowing.
Climbing beans come in many shapes and colours. Blauhilde has lovely purple pods, Fortex (Seaspring Seeds) has surprisingly long ones of good flavour, Cobra is a green all rounder and crops all summer, really nice beans. My favourite dwarf beans are Cupidon for long, green pods, Safari (see photo above) for cropping thin, long beans over a long period and Sonesta or Orinoco for waxy, yellow pods.
Purple Tepee grows flavoursome beans that appear to go from too small to too large in as little as 3 days but do not appear to be tough or stringy.
Fruit – apples
In terms of disease resistance here, I look for resistance to apple scab, flavour, and lateness of harvest – I want apples that keep. Check for local varieties which should be adapted to your weather, and see if you can find some to taste before committing to planting a tree, because it is such a long term commitment.
My favourites are Sunset for eaters October-December, small and sweet, Ribston Pippin for russeted fruits of great taste and density which gives it longevity over crispness, Lord Lambourne for sweet eaters in October-November, and and Kidds Orange Red for exquisite flavoured fruit which may keep until February. Great russets are Egremont and Ashmeads Kernel.
Red Windsor and Cevaal are excellent in Sep-Oct, gorgeous colour and healthy. Court Pendu Plat keeps well through winter as does Spartan (great colour!). Jupiter has large, red, tasty eaters until Christmas, and grow Bountiful for large, green cookers from September, which turn yellow and become sweet in December. Both resist scab and Bountiful is especially clean, and high yielding.
Once you have a harvest of bulbs that you like, I recommend keeping the largest bulbs to separate into cloves to re-plant in early October. See my garlic video for advice.
Flavourwise I like Solent Wight which also stores well.
Hardnecks make slightly smaller bulbs, harvest about two weeks later than softnecks, store less well and are easier to peel.
I grow almost none of these, preferring instead to plant or sow second crops of vegetables in July, August and until about mid September. Then I sow any spare ground, from about mid September to mid October, with mustards or broad bean Aquadulce Claudia, which provides an early crop if it survives the winter, otherwise it will have helped provide soil cover. White mustard (Synapis alba) is the only green manure I occasionally sow in September, it is killed by moderate frost of -5C/23F, so there is no mulching or digging-in needed.
- Recently I have sown mustard before planting garlic. At first, you cannot see the new leaves of garlic, but then the mustard is killed by frost, and there is the garlic, with extra organic matter in the soil from the decaying mustard.
Chervil is delicious and misunderstood, best not sown in spring despite the suggestion on seed packets to do that.
Sow July to mid August for continuous cropping through autumn, and sow mid August to early September for growing under cover through winter, until it flowers in early May.
Coriander likewise – look for Cruiser, slow to bolt and with fleshy leaves. Sow late summer to early September, as well as earlier sowings which crop more briefly.
Dill grows well from a February sowing indoors, planted early April under fleece and cropping by May, giving a long harvest until flowering in late June. Or sow July for autumn cropping.
A plant or two of summer savoury, set out in May, is great for extra flavours.
Basil needs warmth and not too much wet on its leaves, sow in warmth from April, or buy pots of basil seedlings in the supermarket, divide and pot on. I recommend any sweet Genovese basil for large harvests, and lemon basil such as Mrs Burns.
For tenderness and eating raw, try Red Russian or Sutherland (Real Seeds). For lovely red colours, grow Scarlet or Red Devil. Probably the tastiest kale is Cavolo Nero, less frost resistant than curly kale but sweet and tender: when preparing the latter to eat, cut each leaf off its tough central stalk.
For kale all the time, find a plant or cutting of Taunton Deane or Daubentons perennial kale, truly amazing plants, so productive. Taunton’s leaves are not the most tender, but make up for that with vigorous growth.
New varieties of kale are exciting. I have grown Afro, Candy Floss, Emerald Ice and Midnight Sun – all good in different ways, and highly ornamental.
Lambs lettuce/corn salad
Mostly this disappoints me with its small size, meaning one needs to endure a lot of winter weather and cold fingers to harvest a decent amount. Best so far is Valentin, and Trophy looks promising.
In a cold December such as 2022, its hardiness becomes a top asset. I sowed early September and transplanted early October, two plants per clump, after spreading the annual compost.
Excellent hardy plant with good flavour produces leaves all winter without protection – just remember pigeons like it too. Sow July-August because it flowers in May-June.
The early varieties Swiss/Bulgarian Giant, Zermatt and King Richard grow large in autumn, and have less frost resistance than Autumn Mammoth and Philomene, which itself have less frost resistance than Bandit, Bleu de Solarise, Musselburgh, etc. Read the small print to be sure of having a variety suitable for the season in which you want to be eating leeks.
Sow them all at the same time in early to mid April (seed bed outdoors), or from very late March under cover in modules. In 2018 I trialled a variety Malabar, because it claims ’rust resistance’. I found it suffered as much rust as other leeks, plus it has a much shorter stem, which was not mentioned on the seed packet.
So many choices. Batavian and Romaine (cos) varieties can be picked of outer leaves as leaf lettuce, although they can also be left to grow heads, while the seed packet may suggest they are suitable for heading only.
For winter lettuce, an absolute star is Grenoble Red (search Rouge Grenobloise for more results), for resistance to frost, slugs and mildew. From a sowing in early September, it has an ability to grow for longer than most varieties in spring, when its outer leaves are repeatedly picked off. It’s a fast grower and if allowed to heart up, it needs plenty of water to avoid tipburn.
For cos I like Tesy and Bijou (dark red), Xanadu, Valmaine, Freckles, Paris Island, Little Gem including Maureen, Amaze and Intred, and Winter Density, In batavians, Maravilla di Verano and Saragossa are great from both spring or summer sowing. Lollo Rossa and Bianca offer prettiness, and Navara plus Cantarix grow gorgeous red leaves with some resistance to lettuce root aphid.
Melons – see video
The season of growth is short, but we can prolong it by early sowing under cover. Growth in the main season is rapid, during just the three summer months. By early autumn leaves start to die and fruits finish ripening. Melons ripen hardly at all after mid September, and they are rarely sweet after this time, tasting often more like a cucumber.
Don’t underestimate the need for warmth, otherwise you may spend a lot of time and effort for little result. In cool summers it’s possible to have melons, but with less sweetness or flavour, and you will have used a lot of precious space. At Homeacres I grow them mostly under cover for decent harvests, but rarely enjoy success with outdoor melons.
Sweetest harvests come in late summer rather than early autumn, because sunlight is stronger and leaves have more light to convert into sugar.
Varieties that grow well in these temperate, less hot conditions include Minnesota Midget and Pete Gris de Rennes. Both are small and round, with orange flesh. Emir F1 is larger and a little elongated; a little earlier to ripen as well.
Ogen melons have green flesh and show resistance to mildew.
Watermelons need even more warmth and I grow them only in the greenhouse, not the polytunnel. I recommend Early Moonbeam, if you can find it, for its tolerance of cooler conditions. Its flesh is yellow rather than red. Still with plenty of black seeds which you can save to grow again.
If you grow more than one variety of melon or watermelon, they cross pollinate. But melons do not cross pollinate with watermelons.
Onion fly is increasing and mildew has become more common so I am growing onions from multisown seed to avoid risk of contamination from sets.
Sturon is good for even growth and long storage, Stuttgarter has strong flavour and keeps well, Long Red Florence is mild and does not keep beyond Christmas. Red Baron is good but all red onions are more prone to bolting than white ones from sets, and cost about twice as much to grow; however from seed, they are cheaper and bolt little compared to plants from sets. For mildew resistance try yellow skinned Santero and Hylander F1 which store well too. For pink bulbs and a harvest before mid-July, I really like Rose de Roscoff, also called Keravel. It stores well too.
For spring onions, my favourite for slender stems and fatter bulbs of great flavour continues to be White Lisbon. And Lilla grows nice red spring onions, as well as bulbs. I have less success with Allium fistulosum types such as Ishikura: they grow lovely long stems and do not bulb, however they are prone to downy mildew from June onwards.
A big subject! Sow after the summer solstice, to make more leaves and less flowers, (early August is best date here) and they like moist soil. The mustards are pretty and of great flavour, especially Green and Red Streaks/ Frills. Green in the Snow for top pungency, Red Giant is good for stir frying, Red Dragon for salads.
Pak choi is adored by slugs but worth a try, I like Joi Choi F1, while leaf radish is the most vigorous of all, with mild, hairless leaves that keep growing until December outside, sometimes. Mizuna is vigorous in late autumn but prone to slug damage. See CN seeds for excellent choices here.
White Gem is reliable, while the hybrids Gladiator and Javelin are longer and resist canker to some extent. This makes them good for heavy soil, and both have excellent flavour. Buy fresh seed every year. Tender and True is reckoned to have best flavour but I find that all parsnips taste good, especially after some cold weather which converts starches into sugars.
Pea and pea shoots*
Tall varieties in general grow 2m/6.5ft or higher, and crop more heavily than dwarf ones. They also crop for longer. Alderman is my favourite tall pea for podding, and Sugar Snap for snap/mangetout pods of notable sweetness. These tall varieties are also good for pea shoots.
Try Oregon Sugar Pod for classic mangetout, with plants 5 ft/1.5m tall, and Hurst Greenshaft for one metre high plants with tasty podding peas. In 2019 I had a long season of picking from Cascadia, of delicious snap pods on 1.5m high plants.
Like aubergines, best grown under cover. Sweet Banana bears many fruit, long and of pale colour, ripening to orange. Sweet Baby Orange is good for containers. Hungarian Hot Wax and Padron are both an intriguing mixture of pepper and chilli.
Roter Augsburger from Stuttgart is great for cooler climates, eventually ripening to red. D’Asti Giallo is fun for its large fruits, best grown under cover in the UK.
First earlies in order of maturity Swift, Rocket and Casablanca.
Second earlies Charlotte, Gourmande, Estima large tubers, Wilja, and Ratte or Linzer Delikatess (salad), Lily Rose for red potatoes
Maincrop: Sarpo varieties for blight resistance, King Edward for lovely pink eyes and large potatoes.
I grow almost entirely second early because they give a large harvest even by early July, and large potatoes by the middle of July, which store well in paper sacks until late as May sometimes. The harvest being earlier than maincrop means you have time to grow vegetables such as leeks and broccoli.
Pumpkin (not squash)
Rouge Vif D’Etamps is a typically straggling plant capable of covering a large area and making medium sized, flatter, reasonably tasty fruits. They are of much less flavour than winter squashes – and pumpkins’ softer skin means they also store less well. For enormous fruits, grow Atlantic Giant.
Timperley Early keeps producing lovely red stalks by late winter and throughout spring, over a decade or more. Gardening Which? in 2013 trialled many varieties and found The Sutton to have best flavour.
Produces well through winter, good flavour but small leaves in winter (as all salad leaves, because of low light levels mostly). Best sown early August for autumn abundance, and I find that standard salad rocket is good, especially the selection from Bingenheim. Apollo grows larger leaves with less lobes. NB Not the same as wild rocket. That I sow September, to overwinter as small plants. Then they crop from April to early July.
Spinach for salad in autumn, and to a lesser extent in winter can be had from Medania (excellent variety) and Red Cardinal sown in August outside. Or early September to grow under cover.
In the cold winter of 2022 to 2023, Medania still survived. But better winter harvests came from the classic Large Leaved Winter Giant. It goes under different names. The leaves are a little thinner than Medania, but any leaf in the middle of winter is welcome! And I found a good result from growing plants under mesh, with wire hoops supporting.
Sow Medania or F1 varieties under cover February or outdoors in March, to crop by early May for six weeks of harvest. Keep pinching or cutting off larger leaves, sas in this video. To have green leaves in summer it is more reliable to grow leaf beet or swiss chard.
Sweet Nugget F1 has been around a while, always matures nicely and I find it sweeter than older varieties. Plus it retains sweetness after picking. For open pollinated we are impressed by Bingenheim’s sweetcorn. I sowed some of their early, mid and late varieties for a long period of cropping in 2015. Tramunt the late variety has performed best of the three.
Earlibird grows a little more quickly. Northern Extra Sweet has great flavour.
Sungold F1 orange cherry has a fine, refreshing sweetness and ripens early. Rosella fruits are dark skinned, and the flavour is nice balanced sugar and acid. Honeycomb F1 is like Sungold, and less inclined to split.
Sakura F1, a red cherry, offers great flavour and larger fruits. Matina and Ace give red, medium size fruits.
Marmande is ever reliable for beef tomatoes, Black Russian/Krim are great for tasty dark fruit, Feo de Rio is excellent for beef tomatoes and Yellow Brandywine for top flavour. Berner Rose is pink and has excellent flavour.All do best under cover in most of Britain, unless it is a hot summer.
For outdoor tomatoes in temperate climates, try Crimson Crush F1 for juicy flavour and blight resistance. I have had top results from varieties offered by Culinaris in Germany, and here is a catalogue in English. Resi, Primabella, Primavera and Dorada all have good qualities, depending on your taste. They are all cordon cherry tomatoes and grow well in cooler conditions, with resistance to blight. This video is outdoor tomatoes in my garden 2022, a warm summer.
Red (or Uchiki) Kuri trails and makes red fruits of excellent flavour, which manage to ripen in damp summers. Crown Prince‘s blue-grey fruits are of superb flavour, ripening a little later. Butternut’s tasty fruits are hard to ripen unless summer is hot. Their skins need to be brown and hard if you want best flavour, and to keep them through winter. If your summers are not hot, I would go for Kuri.
Also Tromba d’Albenga from Seeds of Italy. They happily ramble amongst climbing beans and sweetcorn or fruit bushes.