When the weather and hours of daylight go downhill, I find it reassuring to be surrounded by seed and plant catalogues.
The images and information they contain lift the spirit, stimulate planning for next season, and can be yours for the price of an email, phone call or postage stamp.
Inevitably, some packets of seed are bought on impulse, but there’s always a traditional order to anticipate arriving by post. This contains ‘bankers’ – vegetables and flowering plants that have proved reliable over the years.
The summer garden wouldn’t be the same without them.
Musselburgh leeks, Boltardy beet, Sundance sweet corn, The Sutton broad bean, Foremost early potato, French Breakfast radish and perpetual spinach have never let us down so why spoil the relationship?
This does not rule out welcoming newcomers that arrive for seed firm trials or are bought as F1 hybrids that sound promising.
Last year we tried a trio of new-to-the-market runner beans with decorative red and white flowers. They came with a reputation for being stringless, which was correct in the early stages, but vanished with age.
Some seed was saved for novelty value, but the main wigwam in 2018 will see a return of Enorma, which offers a huge crop of long, slender pods.
Personal taste differs so much in key vegetables.
The popularity of sweet cherry tomato Gardener’s Delight is widespread, and we always grow a few plants alongside other varieties. It’s a reliably heavy cropper, a type to pick and enjoy straight from the vine. It’s popular amongst fellow gardeners around May when young pot-grown vegetable plants are plentiful.
If the variety you are looking for is not available at the garden centre, there’s always an acquaintance who has it for exchange.
Potatoes are the other key vegetable whose choice is down to the taste-bud test. We always grow one other early cultivar alongside Foremost, but have not yet discovered anything better.
Choice is generally limited to circa eight varieties in catalogues and garden centres. If a type you’ve heard of or wish to try is not available locally, don’t despair, go online and Google heritage varieties or potato specialists.
And when you see the earlies up for sale in January or February, don’t hesitate. Select the best packs while there’s plenty of choice.
Back home, stand them in trays, eyes upward, on the greenhouse bench to encourage sturdy shoots ahead of late March planting.