With more and more gardeners starting to grow vegetables, one of the first things they realise is how many different varieties there are of each crop. Why should we pick one, rather than another?
Luckily, when it comes to choosing the pick of the potatoes and the cream of the carrot cultivars, help is at hand. The RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) gives gardeners a guide to failsafe choices, and is the result of meticulous trials with all the available varieties of each crop grown side by side, allowing RHS experts to pick the best.
Flavour and a heavy crop are obviously vital, but for newcomers to veg gardening other factors are also important. When you’re getting started, varieties need to be easy to grow, and disease resistance is a big bonus. The seeds need to be easy to find in garden centres and catalogues – and, we hope, not too expensive.
So, taking all that into account, here are 10 good vegetable varieties specially suited to newcomers to veg growing.
Tasty, straight from the plant
The problem with so many cherry tomatoes is that they tend to be eaten before they even reach the kitchen! ‘Sweet Million’ is a tasty, sweet, 'eat whole' cherry tomato for growing outside in the open garden. Expect about 23 fruits in each cluster, each a neat bite size 1in (2.5cm) across, that keep in good condition for a long time when ripe.
Fat and juicy
There’s something about growing your own tomatoes that excites veg gardeners – probably because they often taste so much better than those from the supermarket. 'Marmande' is a big beefsteak tomato with bright red fruits about 31/2in (9cm) across – ideal for burgers. The flesh is solid, the flavour is good and in an unheated greenhouse plants can produce an average of 45 tomatoes each.
Quick off the mark
Radishes are one of the quickest of all vegetables to grow, ready to eat in just a few weeks. ‘French Breakfast 3’ is an improved form of an old favourite with red cylindrical roots just over 2in (5cm) long, the bottom quarter of which are white. Sow small rows every two weeks from March to September for a continuous supply without a glut.
Tasty and adaptable
‘Charlotte’ is a potato that does well planted in rows in the traditional way, and also crops well when grown in containers. Ranked high for flavour, its attractive oval tubers are ready from June to August and are lovely steamed or as a salad potato. Also, although not completely resistant, ‘Charlotte’ tolerates potato blight disease better than most.
Set for a tasty crop
Onions grown from sets must be about the easiest of all vegetables to grow. 'Sets' are simply baby onions that develop into full size onions in just a few months. ‘Sturon’ is an old favourite that compares well with newer varieties. Its almost spherical bulbs are about 3in (7.5cm) across with light brown skin and it never bolts.
Loose leaf lovely
One of the best of all vegetables in combining good looks, good flavour and being very easy to grow is the loose leaf lettuce 'Lollo Rossa'. Its frilly pinkish-red leaves surround a green centre and you simply pick the outer leaves, a few at a time, and allow the plant to produce more while all the while looking lovely. Simple.
The ‘Little Gem’ lettuce is the variety most often cited by gardeners and chefs as their favourite, and the improved variety ‘Little Gem Delight’ is especially well worth growing. This baby cos lettuce reaches just 7in (17cm) in height but is fat and very tightly filled, with a crisp yellowish green heart. The flavour is superb.
Tasty tender pods
Crisp dwarf French beans fresh from the garden (by contrast with the limp specimens in the supermarket) are one of the joys of veg gardening. ‘Annabel’ is among the first to produce beans of a pickable size; the 10cm (4in) dark green pods are fat and fleshy and the plants are neat and compact so are less likely to blow over.
Dwarf broad bean
Traditional broad beans can be difficult to manage. They grow tall, especially when sown in the autumn, and need support to prevent them being blown over or weighed down by heavy rain. At about half the height of other varieties, ‘The Sutton’ can be sown from March to July to produce a succession of tasty beans for many months.
Slow to bolt beetroot
Beetroot is an easy and reliable crop - and is far more versatile in the kitchen than many people realise. ‘Boltardy’, which develops deep red roots just over 2in (5cm) in diameter, is especially valuable because it can be sown early and will not run up to flower as some other varieties do. The seed is also very economical.