TopVeg – growing veg,fruit&herbs

May 11, 2011

Food from Your Garden and Allotment -Book Review

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — TopVeg @ 7:49 am

Food from Your Garden and Allotment: All You Need to Know to Grow, Cook and Preserve Your Own Fruit and Vegetables, London/New York/Sydney/Montreal: Reader’s Digest, 2011, £19.99, ISBN 978-0-276-44336-7, 320 pp.

 As you would expect from a Reader’s Digest book, this is attractively produced with plenty of illustrations and photographs. The book provides details on how to grow more than 100 types of fruit, vegetables and herbs, as well as giving recipes for making use of the produce. The crops are covered alphabetically in a survey which has a contemporary bias, including such plants as olives and sweet potatoes, since increasingly warm summers mean it may be feasible to grow them in British gardens.

 There is a section providing a month by month plan of what needs doing in the vegetable garden, as well as a chapter on pests and diseases.

 The book is particularly strong on information on what to do with your crops. As well as covering such widely used practices as freezing and making jams, there is also plenty of advice on drying, bottling, making jams, jellies, pickles, sauces, relishes and flavoured vinegars, as well as on wine making. There is a wealth of recipes, from modern ones such as mixed fruit Chinese style chutney and sauteed sweet potatoes to more traditional methods of dealing with a glut of garden produce, such as marrow jam and green tomato chutney.

 In a book of such wide scope it is unsurprising that there is relatively little information on the varieties of the crops mentioned, so while 22 varieties of apples are described only one variety of parsley is listed.

 Overall, I would strongly recommend this to anyone starting out with their first vegetable garden or allotment, or to more experienced growers who would like suggestions on what to do with their crops. For those with an interest in discovering new and unfamiliar varieties of vegetable, it may be necessary to supplement a book like this with a more specialist publication.

Malcolm Allison, BA, MSc

Plant Consultant

Food From Your Garden & Allotment

July 13, 2010

Cooking Midwinter Broad Beans

Filed under: pea&beans — Tags: , , , — TopVeg @ 7:44 am

We have been cooking the Midwinter Broad beans!  They are a great addition to the veg garden.

The cooked Midwinter broad beans are:

  • delicious
  • sweet
  • mild in flavour
  • pinkish when cooked


The Midwinter broad beans have:

  • yielded well
  • stood up well without staking
  • been disease free


The breeder of this strain, Malcolm Allison, said “the red-seeded character develops while the beans are young & good to eat, whereas the purple colour only comes as the beans are drying out & not worth eating.”  We found that the young immature beans had pink tips where the bean is attached to the pod.  But as the beans mature the pinky/red colour develops over the whole bean.  This colour stayed on the beans after they had been cooked by steaming.  One pod did not have the pink colour, and these bright green broad beans contrasted with the Midwinter pink beans after cooking and added to the picture on the plate!

September 19, 2009

Berkheya purpurea

Filed under: flowers — Tags: — TopVeg @ 8:46 pm
Berkheya purpurea  is one of a group of daisies from South Africa. 
Berkheya purpurea:
  • thrives in a warm, sunny spot.
  • is a perennial which will form a rosette of spiny, silvered leaves; from this comes the flower stalk which grows to some 60cm & on which there are up to 6 flowers, between June & September. 
  • flowers are a very pretty pale-lavender purple, with deeper purple centres. 
  • the whole plant does indeed look like a Scotch thistle & it is quite as spiny, but it is very pretty & reasonably hardy in English gardens.
Berkheya purpurea

Berkheya purpurea

This article was written by Malcolm Allison, plant consultant.

Click the contact us button & complete the form if you would like to find out more about  Berkheya purpurea, or if you would like to have a chat with Malcolm about your garden.

August 10, 2009

alstroemeria problem

Filed under: flowers — Tags: — TopVeg @ 1:18 pm

Malcolm has answered this alstroemeria problem:

After 4 good years in the garden, the alstroemerias have become disappointing.

Malcolm answered:

After 4 years the plants have probably become quite crowded & have exhausted the available nutrients in the soil; I would recommend that they give them a feed with either a general fertilizer (either Growmore, or blood, fish & bone) now & then next spring in March or April that they split the existing clump, dig some compost into the soil & then replant some of the splits.

Click the contact us button & complete the form if you have a problem with Alstroemerias, or if you would like to chat with Malcolm about your gardening problems.

August 5, 2009

Broad Bean Midwinter – a new strain

Filed under: pea&beans — Tags: , , , — TopVeg @ 8:22 am

Broad bean  Midwinter is an exciting  new strain  bred by Malcolm Allison.
The Midwinter strain is characterised by flowers in shades of pink & red and seeds that are red, or that turn purple at maturity. Malcolm is offering these new Midwinter  broad beans,  at £2.50 for 12 seeds, plus £1postage & packing. To buy  please get in touch or click the buy now button below.



As well as being attractive, the plants produce delicious beans!
Malcolm has been selecting the strain for about 12 years & the plants breed fairly true, although every year he is careful to pull out any white-flowered plants & to discard any seeds that are green at maturity.
Malcolm explains the history of Midwinter’s development:
” in 1996 I was working at the Henry Doubleday Research Association (now Garden Organic) & one of the guardians of the Heritage Seed Library gave me seeds of the Crimson-Flowered broad bean (which has green seeds) & of a purple-seeded variety from Estonia (which has white flowers). I planted the two strains together on my allotment & harvested the seeds each year & looked out for plants that combined the characters of the two original varieties. In 2001, I added the variety ‘Red Epicure’ to the mix. ‘Red Epicure’ is a Victorian variety with which flowers, but which has beans that are red, even when very young (the seeds of the purple-seeded strain only develop the purple colour as they ripen i.e. after you’d want to eat them).
I have found that purple seeds of this strain will produce red-seeding plants & vice versa. I have to admit that ‘Midwinter Strain’ is for people keen on the aesthetics of their veg ~ productivity is very feeble compared to TopVeg’s  ‘Optima’.
I’ve called the strain ‘Midwinter’ because that’s the name of my allotment site & that’s when I plant them: I always plant them as soon after 1st January as I can.
I have tried sowing them in the autumn, but the plants all rotted after being frosted & the few that survived flowered no earlier than those sown in January. My soil is a very light, free-draining sand.”

The Midwinter broad bean plants grow to about 80cm tall.

If you’d like a starter pack of this Midwinter strain of broad beans, priced at £2.50 for 12 seeds, plus £1postage & packing,  please get in touch or click the buy now button below.

August 2, 2009

Flowers in my Garden eBook by Malcolm Allison

Filed under: flowers — Tags: , , — TopVeg @ 4:10 pm

Malcolm Allison  has published this e-Book with details of six of his favourite garden flowers:

  • Cayeux or Bearded Irises
  • Alstroemerias
  • Geranium palmatum
  • Lilium pardalinum
  • Agastache ‘Tangerine Dreams’
  • Lilium longiflorum

The book is only £0.99 and contains photos of some of the flowers in Malcolm ’s garden.

To buy the Flowers in my Garden eBook for yourself or as a gift for a friend or a family member please click the buy-now button:

Malcolm Allison is passionate about the complexity of  plant varieties and their suitability for different gardens.  He knows where to source the plants , including old varieties.

With a degree in botany and an MSc in forestry, Malcolm understands what plants will go where & which plants:

  • are locally appropriate
  • are in keeping with the character of the garden
  • will do well on particular soils, different aspects & climates

With a wealth of knowledge of garden plants, including old varieties of fruit trees, Malcolm is able to:

  • audit your garden
  • tell you what is interesting and rare
  • suggest what to do next

Click the contact us button & complete the form if you would like to find out more, or have a chat with Malcolm about your garden needs.
To buy the eBook written by Malcom Allison “Flowers in my Garden” costing only £0.99 click the buy now button

August 1, 2009

Lilium longiflorum

Filed under: flowers — Tags: , — TopVeg @ 9:23 pm
Lilium longiflorum by Malcolm Allison

Lilium longiflorum is the Easter Lily, a native of the islands of southern Japan, where it grows in pockets in coral rock. It grows to 1 metre and the pure white flowers are heavily scented.
Lilium longiflorum

Lilium longiflorum

Lilium longiflorum grows happily in the garden in a sunny or semi-shaded spot. It is one of a group of white trumpet lilies. L. formosasum and L. philippinense are similar, but the trumpets are flushed with brown on the outside. There are also hybrids between these species, such as ‘White Swan.’
This lily is easily grown from seed and will flower within a year, if fed and watered well. It is not long-lived and is prone to virus infections, so it is best replaced with fresh stock regularly.
Click the contact us button & complete the form if you would like to find out more about Lilium longiflorum, or have a chat with Malcolm, who is a plant consultant,  about your garden.
Click the contact us button & complete the form if you would like to find out more, or have a chat with Malcolm about your needs.

July 22, 2009

Agastache ‘Tangerine Dreams’

Filed under: flowers — Tags: , — TopVeg @ 4:12 pm

Agastache ‘Tangerine Dreams’  by Malcolm Allison   plant consultant.

These are the Mexican Mint bushes; they are herbaceous perennials & have slightly greyish foliage that is distinctly scented of mint, maybe with a bit of aniseed.They grow about 60cm tall & flower for months on end from June until the frosts. 



There are a number of named cultivars, including ‘Firebird’ & ‘Glowing Embers’, but there’s very little to choose between them, colourwise; ‘Tangerine Dreams’ is possibly a little paler than the other two.

They’ll grow best in a sunny, well-drained spot. Now, here’s the down side: while they experience severe winter cold in their native habitat, they hate winter wet ~ in my garden, 3 winters out of 4, the out door plants collapse in April; so it’s a matter of overwintering cuttings.  The plants do produce seed & the seedling will flower in their first year, but you get a much bigger & earlier flowering plant if you start off with cuttings in the spring.
There are a number of purple- & blue-flowered Agastaches (A. foeniculum, A. rugosum); they tend to be hardier than the orange ones, but they’re a bit dowdy.
Click the contact us button & complete the form if you would like to find out more about Agastache ‘Tangerine Dreams’, or if you would like to have a chat with Malcolm about planning your garden.

June 23, 2009

Geranium palmatum

Filed under: flowers — Tags: , — TopVeg @ 9:03 pm

Geranium palmatum by Malcolm Allison

This is a biennial or monocarpic perennial (it dies after flowering), but it is worth growing just for its ferny foliage. It flowers in May or June producing masses of magenta flowers & it is very graceful.



Geranium palmatum is one of a group of geraniums related to the common weed Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) which all come from Madeira & the Canary Islands & all produced similarly coloured flowers. Geranium palmatum is the best for garden use, as it is the hardiest ~ a cold winter will kill it, but it will often survive as self-sown seedlings germinating the following spring.

In its native habitat Geranium palmatum is a woodland plant & in the garden it grows well in sun or shade, as long as it is not too dry.

Of the other species, Geranium maderense is the most spectacular, forming a huge mound of blossom when it flowers, but it is very tender; Geranium canariense & G. rubescens are also rather tender & their flowers are also quite small.

Click the contact us button & complete the form if you would like to find out more about Geranium palmatum, or have a chat with Malcolm about your needs.

June 13, 2009

Alstroemerias – by Malcolm Allison

Filed under: flowers — Tags: — TopVeg @ 11:12 pm
Alstroemerias are originally South American & are familiar as cut flowers & in gardens, where a couple of species & hybrids are reasonably common:
  • Alstroemeria aurea has yellow or orange flowers,
  • while the Ligtu hybrids have flowers in soft oranges, salmons, creams & reds.
More recently a great number of new hybrids have been released, but not all make good garden plants ~ some are very dwarf (& not at all elegant or pretty, in my opinion), while others are not very hardy. But pictured here is Alstroemeria ‘Fire King’ & it’s super ~ growing to 90cm tall, it has masses of orange flowers now & again in September/ October


A aurea & the Ligtu hybrids only flower once in a season. Unlike Alstroemeria aurea, ‘Fire King’ is not invasive, but it is hardy & forms substantial clumps quickly in reasonable garden soil in a sunny spot.
I have also grown Alstroemeria ‘Sweet Laura’ ~ this has smaller yellow flowers & is less showy; don’t grow A. ‘Freedom’ ~ despite nurserymen’s claims, it is not hardy.
This article is written by Malcolm Allison, plant consultant.

Click the link to read another article written by Malcolm:

Click the contact us button & complete the form if you would like to find out more about Alstroemerias, or have a chat with Malcolm about your needs.

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