Beet that! Is Pablo en route to be ousted by this new kid in the veg garden?

Beetroot DTB

PABLO had better watch out. A new kid on the kitchen table is emerging to challenge its culinary rival as one of the best beetroots to sow and grow.

Its name – Subeto, an F1 variety marketed by Suffolk mail order Grow your Own specialists D T Brown.

And, it would appear, it’s got a tough act to follow, for Pablo is hailed as an “exhibition variety par excellence, a consistent winner at National Vegetable Society championships and holder of the prestigious Award of Garden Merit”.

Not to be outdone, Subeto’s “CV” – Consistent Veg? – sees a high-quality variety producing uniform, spherical roots of intense, deepest crimson. Not only offering an attractive, blemish-free skin and excellent resistance to fungal diseases and scab, Subeto (pictured above) can be harvested as baby beets when golf ball size or when fully formed to enjoy the sweet, succulent flavour.

D T Brown’s Tim Jeffries says: “We’ve had an overwhelming response from customers who simply can’t get enough of this magnificent beetroot – it simply had to stay!

“Outstanding flavour, disease resistance and attractive enough for the showbench, what more can you ask for?”

Each year, D T B supply their customers with a free trial seed variety, allowing the company to gain invaluable feedback on products to add to their range.

Alongside this generous gesture, NVS members were offered the chance to trial Subeto and exhibit their results in a special class at the society’s national championships in Harrogate. With more than 35 entries, members couldn’t help but comment on both the exhibition quality and the taste.

Gareth Cameron of the NVS says: “We’ve had nothing but great feedback about the new up-and-coming Subeto F1. Members were surprised just how well this new variety looked and tasted.

“We think Subeto has a really exciting future on the showbench and in the kitchen. Finally, D T Brown have found a variety to challenge Pablo.”

Subeto is now available in the 2019 range and is sold in packets containing 200 seeds costing £2.19. Sowing time – March.

⏩⏩➡» To request a copy of the new Fruit & Vegetable Grower’s Seed and Plant catalogue, phone 0845 3710532 or go online at




A dynamic new petunia that’s guaranteed to raise a Wow in wonderment

Super petunia2 (Sut)

TAKE a petunia, sprinkle some botanical stardust from its close relative the calibrachoa and what do you get? A petchoa, of course!

Enter Petchoa BeautiCal, an intergeneric hybrid between the two genera, combining the best features of both – the flower size of petunias and the bloomability of calibrachoas.

No wonder the team at Suttons of Torbay are excited about this one.

Suddenly, our old friend the petunia – the archetypal summer bedder that’s either loved or loathed  – seems all grown up.

This is a fabulous new direction for these multi-hued trumpets, with a superb compact-medium mounded habit and sizeable blooms, making them perfect for pots and patio containers.

The flowers are textured and strong, not floppy like traditional petunias. The weather-resistant plants recover from rain much quicker than standard sorts and the exceptional colour range will guarantee a Wow on patios, terraces or balconies.

And there’s even a unique spicy orange cinnamon.

Another important plus-point – the blooms are non-sticky – we all know about the tacky stems of the close relative the salpiglossis! – so that casual evening deadhead routine won’t demand wearing gloves.

Plant branching is also neater than average, mildew won’t get a look-in, plants are tough and tolerant and will stay green and healthy all summer long.

Super petunias will deliver an extended show, too, with blooms from June to September. Height 8in-12in, spread 16in-20in.

So it’s a case of indulging yourself with shades such as caramel and mulberry, some of which have never been seen before, as the once-humble petunia sets a new beauty standard.

You can buy five super plugs – one of each colour – for £7.99, 10 super plugs – two of each colour – for £12 or six super plugs of one colour for £8.99. Colours include Bordeaux in striking red, Caramel Yellow with red-brown vein, Cinnamon in spicy orange, French Vanilla in sweet light yellow with vein and Sunray Pink with attractive pink vein and yellow heart.

⏩⏩➡» Petunias and calibrachoas – as well as salpiglossis – are all members of the solanum family which makes it possible to interbreed.

⏩⏩➡» Check out or phone 0844 3262200.


⏩⏩➡» Petunias – but only very nearly! Top – BeautiCal Sunray Pink; above left – Caramel Yellow; right – French Vanilla, Cinnamon and Bordeaux.

Heeding doc’s advice means it’s 60-up and still ‘on trial’ for plant guru Brian

Brian Talman (Mr F)


OLD GARDENERS, so the saying goes, never retire, they just spade away.  And the same could be said for Brian Talman, who is celebrating a distinguished  60 years in horticulture.

As trials manager for leading seed and plant firm Mr Fothergill’s, Brian muses how his working life could have been quite different if he had not heeded the advice of a family-friend doctor.

“As a Surrey teenager I passed an engineering exam in 1959 to become an apprentice, but because of my asthma the doctor said a factory environment would be bad for me and I would be better working outside,” Brian, 75, recalls from deep into the past.

He noticed local seed company Nutting & Sons of Merstham, near Redhill, was advertising for a trials assistant, so he applied for the post, was taken on a five-year apprenticeship, at the end of which and, while still a teenager, he was appointed flower seed manager on a six-month probation.

“Although I was never told the company was satisfied, I suppose it must have been because I stayed until 1983,” laughs Brian.

During that time the company moved to Cambridgeshire. In 1983 Brian was approached by Chicago-based Ball & Co and invited to set up a British trial ground, which he managed until 2002 when he decided to set up his own plant company, Talman’s Plants Nursery, which in turn led to him working with Suffolk-based Mr Fothergill’s.

In the early days of this association, Brian grew all Mr Fothergill’s plants at his own nursery because there were no facilities at the seed company’s Kentford, Suffolk, base. Through the years, Brian has supervised the development of the Kentford trial and the installation of state-of-the art greenhouses.

Mr Fothergill’s commercial director Tim Jeffries takes up the story: “We know how fortunate we are to have Brian running our trials, which several independent experts have told me are the best of their kind in Europe.

“His plant knowledge and understanding and his growing skills are unparalleled and he is a key member of our specialist horticultural team.”

Brian, though, is more modest. He simply says: “I can honestly say I have loved every minute of the past 60 years. While every day may have its challenges, every day I work with plants is a joy.”


Brian Talman, young (Mr F)

⏩⏩➡»  Brian Talman, now and then: Top – Taking a breather in Mr Fothergill’s colourful trial fields; above – as a younger man among the petunias.

They’re tiny plants from a titanic family and simply ooze ‘sax’ appeal

SAXIFRAGES – like snowdrops and hardy cyclamen – enjoy a strong cult following right across our planet.

And right from the start, I make no apologies for plugging one of the most masterly written works exploring one specific genus.

Malcolm McGregor’s 2008 composition, entitled simply Saxifrages and published by Timber Press, remains – to my mind – the definitive guide supreme to the 2,000 species, hybrids and varieties of these most engaging alpines.

They are also a clear favourite of Rob and Jackie Potterton and team whose Potterton’s Alpine & Plant Catalogue 2019 is hot off the presses.

The family business, based in Nettleton, Lincolnshire, lists just over 100 saxifrages – from Ala Martin to Zlata Praha, no less – in colours that span the entire spectrum except for pure blue. White, yellow, peach, buff, salmon, orange, red, mauve, purple and pink are all in the sax palette, often as mixes and with petals, nectary, ring and stamens each having the possibility of being a different colour.

Saxifraga Jan Preisler

Result – a myriad of delightful combinations resembling – as author McGregor points out wistfully – the fondants from a Parisian patissier.

Saxifrages are generally slow-growing, long-lived plants that form hard mounds with dainty, short-stemmed, colourful blooms, often from March right through to autumn, though springtime is their  prime season to shine.

Their needs: Well-drained soil, sunlight, raised bed, trough, scree or – with a watchful eye – in the garden surrounded by plenty of grit, both because they like the gritty stuff and to deter the slug armies.

I suspect saxifrages are seen in many UK gardens, often bought because they hold so much appeal and not necessarily because the gardener is a collector or connoisseur.

No matter. Saxifrages are superb plants, found in the wild from Mexico to Alaska, from every US state to the Andes and Patagonia in the deep south. Not forgetting the Himalayas, India, Turkey, Austria, Slovenia, France, Italy, Spain and Morocco. Oh, and even Greenland.

I wasn’t surprised to read that Malcolm McGregor has visited every one of these nations and locations on plant-hunting expeditions.

I grow Southside Seedling – white flowers subtly marked with a cluster of small dark red spots – and a couple of mossy saxes, as well as bagging a pretty pink unnamed plant from Homeleigh Garden Centre, near Launceston, today.

London Pride – Saxifraga urbicum – is here, there and everywhere with its pink stars atop tall, slender stems and slightly fleshy leaves. But don’t stop at these. Your choice is vast!

Pottertons pages are filled with a wonderful array of alpines and conventional perennials – randomly aubrieta, bessera, cassiope, daphne, dodecatheon, erodium, iris, lewisia, peony, penstemon, primula, sedum, trillium, zephyranthes and loads more.

⏩⏩➡» Call up or phone 01472 851714 for the alpine and the new dwarf bulb catalogue.

⏩⏩➡» Sax-sational! Top – the salmon Jan Preisler; below, clockwise from top – Allendale Bamby; my purchase today; the Potterton’s catalogue; Anna and Southside Seedling.


Hanging baskets St J

HANGING BASKETS – if my memory hasn’t faded in my older years – used to be pricey and not so very pretty.

Back in the 80s and 90s, I recall paying a fiver or more for baskets that were drearily traditional and quite unexciting.

Nowadays there’s a huge choice and a myriad of designs to suit all tastes and backdrops – as I discovered from a meander around St John’s Garden Centre in Barnstaple the other day.

A glance through the internet will reveal brightly coloured baskets, some adorned with funny faces, many edged in wrought iron and with moulded jute or coco liner, others cone-shaped, wavy-edged or square. I didn’t see any oh-so-bold or garish as that at St John’s but the variety was certainly hanging in there, as the picture reveals.

Our summer blooms have never had it so good!

Well, I thought I’d done pretty well, too, when I spotted a pile of attractive baskets for the princely sum of £1.99 each. Nope, no catch – they were crafted from bamboo leaf, rope and fern, with a darker “stitching” pattern down the sides and held eight litres of compost in its 14in span and natural lattice design. And they were marketed by leading horticultural suppliers Gardman.

So I armed myself with a couple of these and look forward to popping in the plants when spring finally blossoms in.

And talking of hanging baskets, I was chatting with a seasoned gardener from Tiverton some years ago on the perennial problems of growing hostas in conventional manner and keeping them slug and snail-free. Not easy!

He told me: “Grow them in hanging baskets and the slugs don’t have a chance. It stands to reason, of course, that unless a slug is brainy enough to slide along the basket hanger and down the chain, it’s going to be hard-pressed to devour those hanging hostas which they adore as keenly as pandas adore bamboos.

Hosta lovers – is it worth a shot?


Hardy geraniums: Plant perfection is as close as you can get

CRANESBILL NURSERY makes a highly efficient and informative fist of promoting the hardy geranium.

An attractive, quality catalogue, some friendly, welcoming words inside and a determination to carry on despatching these handbooks by old-fashioned snail-mail rather than yield entirely to online browsing and ordering.

Barely three years ago Gary Carroll took over Cranesbill in Bloxwich, near Walsall.

For the next two years he continued working four days a week in his “day job” as a head gardener for the National Trust.

Now he has immersed himself wholly in developing his private nursery and says of his decision to continue sending out hard copies: “We still consider it worth it as not everyone has the internet and we also think it’s rather nice – and somewhat easier – to leaf through a printed catalogue over a brew.”

Couldn’t agree more, Gary!

As for geraniums, aka cranesbills, there are an impressive 300 species and no end to varieties in a wide-ranging spectrum of colour. Many admirers will argue that they are as close to plant perfection as you can get – they grow practically anywhere, are child’s play to care for and seldom get struck down by ailments or creepy-crawly enemies.

And there’s more to geraniums than Johnson’s Blue and Buxton’s Variety, good as this populist pair are.

A thumb-through the Cranesbill “bible” gives browsers a wonderful insight into the diversity of this genus – species native to lands as far-flung as Montenegro and Albania to India, China, New Zealand and the Pyrenees to the Himalayas and west to California.

They fare, of course, exceedingly well in the dear old UK too!

Take a moment to swoon at Blue Blood in deep sapphire-blue, Crystal Lake in pale blue with purple veins, Hollywood in pale pink with a web of darker veins and vibrant green foliage, Jolly Jewel Salmon in a striking salmon-pink, Laurence Flatman in a gorgeous ruffled rose-pink with rich magenta veining, Nimbus in a stunning mid-blue over finely divided leaves that are golden when new, Red Admiral, a strong grower in deep pink with black veins and eye, Splish Splash with superb, large white flowers and streaks of blue, Southcombe Double with pink double blooms like little fairies’ hats and light green leaves, the pure white St Ola complete with pink stamens and glossy, aromatic foliage and, of course, Rozanne in large, bright purple flowers, white eye and a global box-office hit.

Owner Gary also reminds customers that his 2019 bare-root offer is on until 28 February. Savings per named variety are considerable and postage is free.

These are dormant plants, just like a spring bulb or dahlia tuber, and should be placed directly into the border when the soil is frost-free or grown on in pots for later planting out.

⏩⏩➡»Check out details and discover even more varieties at or phone 01684 770733.

⏩⏩➡» Glorious geraniums: From immediately above and clockwise – St Ola, Splish Splash, Rozanne, Red Admiral, Hollywood, Southcombe Double and the nursery’s 2019 catalogue.

Spring’s not sprung on us yet, so mind how you sow!

FEBRUARY is just a week old, so that means we’re not out of the winter woods yet.
But take heart – the daffodils are poking up their tightly-budded heads while many are in full cry, as are snowdrops, crocuses, aconites and those fabulous hellebores.

As I write, there’s a warning of nasty conditions on the horizon and due to blow across the UK, so hammer in those tent pegs and keep your heads down!

In my own greenhouse, many seedlings have germinated and are peeping above the soil-line, delphiniums, erodiums and a new batch of sweet peas because not all my autumn-sown seed survived for reasons that baffle.

And now, as dear old Max Bygraves would say, I’m going to tell you a story: Last July we went with friends to see music maestro André Rieu in his home town of Maastricht, Holland, perform with his Johann Strauss orchestra.

While waiting at a bus stop to take us into the city, I spotted a dried up poppy seed head lying almost out of sight in the shelter. Curiosity got the better of me, so I picked it up and, to my delight, it was full of those tiny seeds that can blow away in a puff of wind.

We later shared the seed with our friends and I duly took mine home, sowed half of my share and popped the rest in the fridge. Surprise, surprise – nothing happened. Not a sign of life, zero, zilch, nuffin!

Until two weeks ago, that is, when I spied a tiny cluster of seedlings, less than a quarter of an inch high, in one corner of the seed tray.

Is this a Eureka moment? Time will tell when I am able to identify the baby plantlets. But I’ve still got those back-up seeds in the chill, so they will be sown in any case when March breezes in.

If my optimism proves correct, I shall celebrate my second Maastricht treat within seven months.

Meanwhile, here are some seasonal tasks if you are willing and the weather relents:

✴ Keep feeding the birds, who are having a tough time of it in the depths of winter. Even the gulls – and a solitary crow – can’t resist fistfuls of stale bread, as my picture shows.

Gulls Gemini

✴ Put up next boxes, giving birds time to pick and choose before moving in to set up home.

✴ Check all tools and machinery are in working order, particularly electrical wiring and mower blades.

 Plan your compost, pots and seed tray order for the season ahead and make sure existing pots and trays are clean and crack-free.

✴ Plant new climbers to adorn walls or fences such as clematis, roses or honeysuckle. Dig holes about 9in from the wall and fix a trellis for extra support.

✴ Start preparing veg seedbeds, apply an organic fertiliser and cover with cloches to warm the ground.

✴ Plant raspberries, blackberry and hybrid berry canes, also bare-root fruit trees, working in leaf mould and a fish, blood and bone booster.

✴ Sow indoor tomatoes, aubergines and peppers and continue the end of March.

✴ Plant shallots 6in-7in apart. Use a trowel to fix them, with bulb tips just below the surface rather than pushing them into the soil as the new roots will force the bulbs upwards and give the birds a chance to pull ’em out for fun.