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Dream Gardens: Dig your own festive meal

Category: Home & Garden,Lifestyle

It's clearly too late to start now but with the traditional turkey-and-all-the-trimmings in mind and the new season seed catalogues waiting for your attention, now's the perfect time to think about growing veg for next year's festive feast. No Christmas dinner is complete without the traditional trio: roast potatoes, sprouts and parsnips. For your potatoes you'll need a good main crop variety and the best for roasting is old favourite, King Edward.

It's not the heaviest cropper by any means and it needs good, fertile soil to do well but the outstanding flavour and floury texture are unsurpassed, especially roasted in goose fat, as the TV chefs do. It also makes excellent mash to go with turkey leftovers.

Sprouts get a mixed reception in many families. Traditionalists enjoy the strong flavour of classic varieties, while children prefer mild modern kinds and cooks revere tiny "gourmet" sprouts.

ONE that should suit everybody is Nelson, which has smallish, sweet-tasting sprouts or for a more "designer" dinner go for Falstaff, which has mild, nutty-tasting, purplish-red ones.

Sprouts taste better after a hard frost so leave them growing till the last minute but here's a timesaving tip: pull up whole plants and "plant" them in pots of damp soil just outside your back door.

They'll keep fresh for a week or 10 days. (If you buy whole, fresh-cut stems of sprouts from the greengrocer, stand the base in a jar of water and they'll last just as long in the shed or a cool utility room. ) When it comes to parsnips, you might think all varieties taste the same. Yet if you have the right conditions for growing root crops - deep, free-draining soil that's not recently been manured - then it's worth growing a few good plump tasty parsnips just for Christmas.

One of the best roasting varieties is the rare Half Long Guernsey: a short, fat, stumpy parsnip that's best suited to slightly sandy soil but with an outstanding flavour.

Failing that, cheat and grow Hamburg parsley instead. It's an unusual vegetable with small, parsnip-like roots which have a rich, nutty flavour. They keep best if left in the ground until needed.

Apart from the "big three" festive veg, there are a few other special kinds that you might like to tuck in to next Christmas.

Celeriac grows a large, round, swollen "root" that protrudes halfway out of the ground, with a wonderful celery-like flavour.

It's great for roasting but, grated raw with carrot, apple and a little homemade mayonnaise, makes a fab winter salad. It's a lot easier to grow than real celery, though it needs rich, fertile ground and lots of water but at roughly £1 per root in the shops it's worth growing.

When you want another green vegetable, grow purple-sprouting broccoli. You need the earliest variety, Rudolph, and sow early to be certain of having some ready to eat next December 25.


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