Which plants would make it into your best team?

There are occasions when gardening seems to resemble sports team selection.

By Tom Pattinson
Saturday, 17th July 2021, 9:00 am
Rainbow Swiss chard. Picture by Tom Pattinson
Rainbow Swiss chard. Picture by Tom Pattinson

Imagine, you have limited space for cultivation and there are so many choices and opinions regarding which plants are best.

I’m currently monitoring the performance of vegetables and will decide when cropping is over, who is in next year’s team. Are the regular choices still up to the mark? Do any newcomers deserve a place on the annual seed list?

I suppose you could call it loyalty, selecting the same old variety of potato ‘Foremost’ every year, as we do, but it`s there on merit for good taste and reliability. However, two further varieties we haven’t tried before, are always introduced alongside to avoid complacency. ‘Lady Crystal’ is already pencilled in for next year on friend George’s advice.

Rainbow beetroot. Picture by Tom Pattinson

The sweet corn ‘Sundance’ would tell a similar tale, could it speak. In growing corn on the cob, we`ve always gone for cultivars best suited to our northern clime. There are a limited number listed in the catalogues, ‘Swift’ and ‘Goldcrest’ for example. They’ve been grown alongside the current favourite in a fair test of performance and not met its standard.

Why does broad bean ‘The Sutton’ always figure in our veggie team? Because it’s a dwarf type that rarely needs support and is a banker in terms of cropping. The pods are not the same length as other taller, popular varieties we’ve tested, but the contents remain fresh over a longer period. Also, I love the way these plants stand firm in the face of a strong wind.

Wherever you find an allotment or vegetable patch there will always be leeks and onions. These are perfect winter staples, one to harvest direct from the garden, the other to ripen and store. But is there competition for a place in my team? Not really. I keep trying other leeks but ‘Musselburgh’ remains favourite. Choosing large, sweet-tasting onions is not too difficult either. ‘Kelsae’ and ‘Robinson’s Mammoth Improved’ grow side by side. The latter stores slightly better.

Similar cases could be presented for several plant types, vegetable, fruit, ornamental, in your garden, but the constant search for perfection demands that we continue trying new cultivars flagged-up in the catalogues or suggested by acquaintances. In making such decisions, I guess the gardener’s team selection problems are mild, even enjoyable in comparison to those of a sports team manager!


If you can identify reliable vegetables that perform well in your garden, stick with them.

The icing on the cake comes when they also have different form and colour, adding interest to both plot and plate.

We grow the statuesque, perennial globe artichoke for its large, silvery grey leaves and edible green sepals that surround the thistle-like flowers.

They in turn attract all manner of pollinating insects.

There’s an even more colourful variety (‘Purple de Provence’) that can be raised from seed – £2.99 a packet, Suttons. This plant does not look out of place in a mixed ornamental border.

Introduce more colour in the form of vegetables otherwise judged common.

Alongside the traditional round beetroot ‘Boltardy’, sow ‘Rainbow Mix’, a multi-coloured type. Nor do the courgettes need to be dull green. Add some of the golden cultivars to the mix.

A healthy row of peas and beans is delightful to see but why not add purple podded types for extra interest. Dwarf French ‘Borlotto Firetongue’ has impressive, mottled pods, and there are climbing beans in purple, green and yellow. I’m also looking forward to harvesting a Brussels sprout ‘Red Ball’

Sow a packet of ‘Rainbow Mix’ if you want a tasty display of white, yellow, and purple carrots.

Even humble salad crops offer interest in the form of leaf lettuce. Try ‘Lollo Rossa’ (red), ‘Salad Bowl’ (palest green) and ‘Spicy Mix’, a variety with diverse leaf shapes.

Two Swiss chard varieties ‘Bright Lights’ and ‘Rainbow’, provide an alternative to spinach. The leaves and stems are so attractive that it feels a shame to harvest them.

However, one way around this is to plant a group in the mixed border with a label that reads – for display only!