Now that everybody's growing their own veg, the hunt is on this spring for something special. The seed companies do not disappoint, with new varieties that will satisfy the most gourmet gardener.
One of this year's most exciting introductions is a sweet pepper that thinks it's a chilli, (but not a hot one) and a small, tapered one at that. Moreover, the plant itself has a trailing habit and covers itself with small orange fruits, so is ideal for windowboxes and hanging baskets. Stir-fries will be all the sweeter. Place your order for three Sweet Sunshine plants with Dobies right now: trust me, demand will be great.
Look for cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers on grafted rootstocks that can all be bought from garden centres this spring. This increasingly popular technique enables plants to grow more vigorously and produce greater yields, which is all good news for gardeners. Suttons, however, has gone one better, with a grafted tomato with two trailing sweet-flavoured cherry varieties on one plant, Florryno (red) and Orangino (orange); Tomato Twins is the groundbreaking — and possibly pot-breaking — plant to request. The grafted cucumber to try this season is Suttons' new Quatro cocktail cucumber.
Give melon a go: yellow-skinned and orange-fleshed Alvaro F1, rather like a canteloupe, and reassuringly awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit, is credited as being possibly the only melon to ripen outdoors in the UK. Adventurous gardeners can buy the seeds from Plants of Distinction, and hope for a long hot summer.
Drought is already on the cards, so it makes sense to choose a potato that delivers the goods, even in dry soil: Unwins' new Orchestra, only at garden centres. Blight-busting potato Sarpo Mira is another drought-resistant variety that is usefully sold in a dinky 500g hessian bag for small-scale growing, as part of the Jamie Oliver Best of British Veg Collection at Homebase.
You can even grow peas in planters, courtesy of new patio pea Bingo, which Thompson & Morgan thoughtfully supply as a kit, with two planters, support frames and enough seeds for a long cropping season. Also from T&M is a lettuce that is supposedly resistant to bolting, rotting, downy mildew and whatever the British weather decides to throw at it. Loose-hearted Lettony is a looker, too, with a full head of frilly apple-green leaves. It remains to be seen whether it is resistant to slugs.
Bajaja is T&M's new tomato offering; the overall size can apparently be controlled by the size of container used. Each single plant can produce 700 small red fruits, a claim that I will enjoy challenging on my patio this summer, though I may have to grow it in a builder's bucket to produce such amounts.
Even on a balcony you can grow vegetables, in roomy pots, woven polypropylene planters or fruit crates. If you want something showy, use Burgon & Ball's handsome white or natural willow baskets with concealed liners, that you buy flat-packed, and just tie the four sides together; pull several into a tight group and you have an instant urban potager. Vertical fabric planters with pockets for herbs and salads can be pinned to the patio wall.
For the ultimate ease — no kneeling or stooping — try a veg trug: a cedarwood raised-bed-on-legs that tapers down at centre into a V shape so you can even cultivate deep-rooted parsnips. If you want to grow tomatoes but can't be bothered to water, Greenhouse Sensation's Quadgrow planter will do it for you, with pots that water and feed themselves for up to two weeks at a time.