I’m rather prone to waxing lyrical about my favourite types of veg: scrumptiously fat ‘Costoluto Fiorentino’ beefsteak tomatoes, perhaps, or my handsome Telephone peas; ‘Duke of York’ potatoes, ‘Cambridge Favourite’ strawberries and slender ‘Cobra’ French beans. You know – the kinds of fruit and veg you can’t wait to taste again.
But I realised the other day I never mention the plants in my little black book. These are the ones with the big X by the side, meaning never, ever, on any account, bother giving veg plot space to this sodding thing ever again.
It is a mercifully short list. There are far more vegetables I adore and enjoy growing and hope to grow again one day (if they’re not already in my garden again this year).
But if you think about it, when you try growing something new most years as I do, not everything is going to be a rip-roaring success.
And while I don’t wish to dwell on the negative, when we’re all struggling to squeeze everything we want to grow into ever-diminishing gardens, it’s perhaps useful to know what’s not worth bothering with.
So in the interests of balance, and telling it like it is, here are my all-time worst veg garden bloopers: the veg I grew, so you don’t have to.
Kailaan broccoli: a new arrival in my garden this year, and on the way to the exit already. There’s nothing wrong with the plants: they’re the fastest brassicas off the mark I’ve ever seen. The seeds I sowed in March are already cropping, for heavens’ sake. But when I say cropping, I really mean ‘cropping’: was there ever such a stingy harvest from such a massive plant. A handful of 5cm flower heads from plants the size of your average purple-sprouting doth not a generous harvest make. Yes, you can eat the leaves – but they get so big and tough so fast you turn your back and they’re past it. Personally, I’d rather the broccoli. Or calabrese. Or anything else, really.
Mooli radish: Now this is one which I’m quite prepared to be contradicted on, as I do realise it has more to do with my dislike of very peppery flavours than any actual faults of the plant itself. But god, mooli tastes horrible. Plus mine are committing the ultimate sin by bolting and flopping all over the plants around them (mooli are very big once they get going). I did think perhaps I’d prefer the seedpods or the flowers, like I do with regular radish, but actually there’s oddly little taste in them. Nul points all round, then.
‘Red Giant’ mustard: My main beef with this particular mustard is that there are just so many nicer ones around. ‘Red Giant’ is the one everyone recommends – but it’s so dull compared to ‘Red Frills’, for example, with its filigree leaves and delicate texture, or the serrated lime green of ‘Golden Streaks’. And it compounds its sins by bolting in a blink of the eye and self-seeding all over the place: there’s a huge ‘Red Giant’ among my runner beans right now, in fact (now there’s a phrase you don’t use very often). Ugly and badly-behaved, then: no place for it here.
‘Fine Maraichere’ endive: I have fond memories of these dinnerplate-sized masses of frilly, ruched leaves in France, each with a pure white centre where they’d been forced with a weighted-down plate plonked over the top. So I thought I’d have a go myself. More fool me. What they don’t tell you is that endive - also known as frisée chicory – is fiendishly difficult to grow. So difficult, in fact, that mine never even made it out of the module tray before they bolted. Anything that sensitive ain’t ever going to survive long around here, that’s for sure.
Tomatilloes: I really, really like homemade salsa, in this country usually made with chopped tomatoes and coriander in a little oil. So in the quest for authenticity I was always going to have a go at growing tomatilloes. Actually I love the plants: big, handsome, and prettily flowered. The fruits have curiosity value, too, covered in a papery husk. But I picked the grand total of around five tomatilloes off each plant: about enough for one portion of salsa, which considering how much of my greenhouse they hogged was a leetle disappointing.
‘Chioggia’ beetroot: I feel a bit mean complaining about this one, as it’s a proper Italian heirloom and a beautiful thing. Cut it in half and you’ll find concentric rings of pink around ivory white flesh. But don’t ever try to pickle it. You will be expecting the sumptuous deep purple of, say, ‘Boltardy’; what you will get is a sickly greyish pink sludgy colour, about as appetising as a five-day-old sandwich. This gap between expectation and reality is the same if you roast them: I have no idea what you’re supposed to do to make them look like you’d want to eat them. However good the flavour, there’s not a lot of point if you have to look the other way before you take a bite.