Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

So, am I a 'Vegetable Luddite' ?

In the Gardening section of the Telegraph last Saturday there was an article written by one of my gardening heroes, Noel Kingsbury. His books have been a huge inspiration to me, so when I saw the column entitled Heritage vegetables aren't necessarily the best, I grabbed the paper and settled down to see what he had to say.

Mmmm?!! lots to think about there Noel. So, am I a 'Vegetable Luddite' ? I suppose that if my aim was to grow enough food for us to be self sufficient all year round I would organise my plot in a very different way and yes Noel, probably I would grow modern varieties. So my motivation must be something other than putting food on my plate – I like the fact that by growing old and almost forgotten varieties of vegetables my garden is full of surprises (some good, some not so good). I have also happened upon varieties of veg that suit my garden and my taste – I've never tasted a better runner bean that 'Salford Black' or seen bean plants grow so abundantly with so little effort. And Noel, the 'Nero de Toscana' kale in my garden is tender and delicious.

Have a read and see what you think. Meanwhile here's a roundup of some of the unusual and distinctive heritage peas in my vegetable plot . . .

Old varieties of peas often have two-tone mauve/magenta flowers, and not just the purple podded varieties. Here's 'Carouby de Maussane', a large and delicious mange tout originally from near Avignon in France . . .

The pea I selected from the Heritage Seed Library catalogue this year was 'Victorian Purple Podded', and over the past few weeks it has been the star of the vegetable garden – tall (2.5 metres) and as statuesque as a Victorian duchess in a tightly laced corset, its sweet-pea lookalike flowers will have centre stage in the borders next year.
The long purple pods are looking good too, so I can't wait to taste those peas . . .

Here's 'Golden Sweet' glowing in the sun beams. This is not only noted for it's delicious flavour but has great historic pedigree - it was one of the pea varieties grown by Gregor Mendel for his experiments in genetic inheritence. 'Golden Sweet' is also one of the parent plants for the amazing red podded pea bred by Daughter of the Soil .

Another amazing pea variety from the Heritage Seed Library that Daughter of the Soil grew last year and kindly sent me some seeds. The vertically ridged stems are thick and strong, like no other pea, this is a real curiosity . . .

and here are the flowers of pea 'Salmon Flowered', aren't they gorgeous! Now, I wonder what the pods and peas will be like?

So am I a 'Vegetable Luddite' ? Or just infatuated with curious and beautiful edible plants!


  1. No...I don't think you are Luddite. I think you are applying Arts & Crafts thinking to your growing, having plants in your garden thatyou know to be useful and believe to be beautiful.I'm so tempted by those heritage peas for next year.

  2. No, no Luddite you! If we lost all the old varieties our lives would be less rich. All the newer varieties seem to have a shape/size conformity which can be quite dull - keep growing the old things, please.

  3. What an interesting post - I will have to read the Kingsbury article. The pea flowers are all gorgeous - I love your description of the 'Victorian Purple Podded' peas. They are stunning.

  4. I love threadspider's William Morris thought on the vintage veg.

    What about a test next year - best selling standard modern variety grown alongside a successful heritage strain. Score out of 10 for vigour and ease of propagation, appearance, pest resistance and flavour. I'd join in.

    Can you tell I used to be a scientist - nerd alert!

    I think that pea with the ridged stem is an aspiring beanstalk for Jack - tried climbing up it Celia?

  5. Yes to the Arts & Crafts thought.
    As well as to sustainability. Even if heirloom varieties are not as productive as modern and hybreds, they are diverse and can reproduce - both important features in our changing climate and vegetative monoculture world.

  6. Silverpebble, that sounds like fun!

    I think it's silly to make decisions solely based on what the accepted "wisdom" says you should be growing.

    If you like the varieties you grow, who cares what other people think?

    Can't say I'd like to have all my crop exactly the same anyway - uniform = every plant hast to be harvested at the same time.

  7. There's the point that seed collecting or using heritage varieties suit certain local soil types, so you don't have to spray them with all sorts of chemicals to get a good crop. If everyone used the same seeds, those seeds could be susceptible to one disease that could cause havoc.

    Variety is good!

  8. Very William Morris!
    Celia, have you ever tried Asparagus Pea(Lotus tetragonolobus)? I did grow them years ago, but doubt they'd cope in the tropics.I think you'd like both flower and flavour!

  9. I prefer to think of gardeners like you and I as people who continue the CRAFT of gardening...we love the whole process and the heritage of it...

    Your peas are exquisite...I can't wait to see the salmon and white beauties...tres magnifique!

  10. That article is interesting, but rather overlooks the fact that modern F1 varieties and dependency on chemicals has completely bound production up with agri-business. One of the things I love about being a vegetable luddite (and other types of luddite too) is the much greater feeling of self-sufficiency. Which is kind of the point.

    LOVE the peas. My golden sweets are coming into flower and I am totally taken with how beautiful they are.

  11. Hi - I loved your pea flower photos. I have Lancashire Lad (purple podded) and Salmon Flowered this year. I haven't taste either before but they are well behaved and very beautiful to look at. Why would you NOT grow them? Eating them will be a bonus!

  12. I think that headline was there to grab your attention....
    Anyhow so what if you were a luddite?

  13. Thank you Threadspider for the William Morris quotation - it exactly sums up my vegetable garden.

    And thank you everyone – this post has certainly got the passionate veg growers stirred up! No I don't consider myself a Luddite – I just grow what I enjoy! I'm going to continue to grow the strange and beautiful varieties, they make picking veg for dinner a delight and an adventure.

    Silverpebble and Anna – yes a controlled comparative trial would be fun, we'll have to select some varieties to grow in 2009.

    Dinahmow - yes I have tried asparagus peas - the red flowers and the little wings pods are very pretty.

    Veg Heaven, welcome to my blog! aren't those Salmon Flowered peas amazing! Definitely one to save seed from and grow again!



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