Growing your own opens up a world of variety and choice

Chris Margrave, head gardener at Clumber Park
Chris Margrave, head gardener at Clumber Park

One of the many attractions of growing your own is the wide range of varieties from which you can choose, which will far exceed the choice on the supermarket and greengrocers’ shelves, writes Chris Margrave, head gardener at Clumber Park in Worksop.

This summer at Clumber, we are growing 41 varieties of tomatoes, ranging from those with tiny, currant-sized fruits to the big, beef-steak kinds.

Skin colour includes cream through yellow, orange and pink to deep red, almost black and some are marked with attractive stripes.

For many years we have grown Red Gem as a companion plant at the base of our tomato plants.

The thinking is that their flowers will attract beneficial insects such as hoverflies and lacewings, which will help to reduce numbers of greenhouse pests such as aphids.

In addition, the flowers are attractive and are produced all summer long.

The two top tips to ensure maximum flavour when growing tomatoes are, firstly, leave the fruits to ripen fully on the truss.

Wait until they have fully coloured up, and you will get the full flavour.

Second tip is to feed plants regularly with a liquid fertiliser which is high in potassium.

Look for the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium on the label.

Last month, we began weekly tastings at Clumber, allowing our visitors to sample the tomatoes and vote for their favourite tasting variety – top of the shop so far are Limmony, Wapsipinicon Peach, Purple Bumblebee and Orange Banana.

As part of our conservation work for the UK Heritage Seeds Library, which co-ordinates a seed exchange scheme aimed at keeping old and endangered vegetable varieties alive, we are growing four tomato varieties, one of which is Stonor’s Most Prolific, which dates from the 1940s and is great for tomato sauces.

We grow the plants, collect seed from them, keep a little of the seed to grow next year’s plants and send the rest to the Heritage Seeds Library, where members of the scheme can then acquire the seed and grow the variety.

It is now September and there are lots of vegetables to harvest, from tomatoes and peppers under glass to salads, French and runner beans and main crop potatoes outside.

Cover perpetual fruiting strawberries, such as Mara des Bois, Aromel and Flamenco, with cloches to help developing fruits ripen and to protect them from blackbirds.

Cover garden ponds with netting before autumn leaf fall starts and order or buy spring flowering bulbs.

Daffodils and narcissi benefit from September plantings, while tulips and hyacinths are best planted in October.