Thanks to 2012's disastrous weather, few London gardeners enjoyed a great harvest from their vegetable patch: the runner beans scarcely left the starting line, potatoes succumbed to blight — and the tomatoes? We're still using up the green tomato chutney.
© Thompson & Morgan
For this year, however, the seed companies have wised up and introduced new breeds which, they claim, will guarantee a good crop whatever the weather.
Sarpo Mira is the blight-proof potato that has already proved its worth, but now you can choose from six more of the indomitable Sarpo family, all of which offer exceptionally high blight and virus resistance. Sarpo Kifli is the early salad potato that will also thrive through drought, and Blue Danube is the general-purpose Sarpo that gets my vote for its decorative value: purple stems, flowers and skins.
Grafted vegetable plants, grown on robust rootstocks, promise strong plants with higher yields, so are always a good bet. This year, the ranges increase. Look for container aubergine Cristal, renowned for its ability to handle tricky growing conditions; Charentais melon Diva, a definite non-diva though still best grown under cover, and Black Prince tomato — with dark, juicy fruits and rich flavour, it hails from Siberia so performs well in cooler climes.
Tomato Giulietta F1 sounds promising and looks gorgeous: a large-fruited Italian plum, with fruits that are said to set well even in cool conditions, and that also have a good range of disease resistance.
© Suttons Seeds
For a decent crop of runner beans, bees are needed to pollinate the flowers, and a cold, wet summer is likely to mean poor pollination, so the new varieties for 2013 are the results of crosses between runners and French beans, which are self-pollinating. The two to try are red-flowered Firestorm and white-flowered Stardust, both stringless and drought-resistant, and which lazy London gardeners can buy as ready-to-grow young plants.
Snack-size cucumber Anbar, too, can set fruit without pollination, so will thrive even in a poor summer, while specially bred courgette Best of British, a recent introduction, is one of the earliest courgettes to set fruit in our unpredictable summer; its open habit attracts the maximum amount of sunlight as well as good air circulation to minimise disease.
With a name like Eskimo carrot, you just know that this new variety, awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit, is tolerant to cold and can even withstand frost, so providing a harvest through autumn. And likewise, lettuce Antarctica can be relied on for crunchy leaves right through the chilliest summer.
The foodies' favourite, Cavolo nero, the black Tuscan kale, gets a makeover: its new British offspring, Black Magic, has been bred to perform better in our colder summers and has narrower, darker, crinkly leaves.
© Suttons Seeds
Which? Gardening successfully trialled it last year and suggest using it as a baby leaf or growing it over winter. Rocket Gourmet, too, has been adapted for the UK so it is less likely to bolt, and the pretty serrated leaves are another bonus.
Chillis, ideal for pots, are favourite with town gardeners but need heat and sunshine to ripen. In trials, new Cayennetta has been proven to have good tolerance to cold as well as extreme heat — and, with its masses of long, pointed, scarlet fruits, it is a red-hot contender for the finest container plant of the year.