Flower shows date all the way back to 1800s

Exhibiting pumpkins.
Exhibiting pumpkins.

It is so satisfying to grow your own vegetables and deliver them fresh to the kitchen, especially if they’re a decent size and free from blemishes.

Only one small step away from this is the competitive element – a desire to show others how well they have grown. This is how the early ‘flower’ shows, another aspect of gardening, developed.

Getting to the show.

Getting to the show.

In the early 1800s, gooseberry shows were popular in the north, and one such was staged in Mrs Pringle’s Nags Head Inn, Alnwick.

Local growers exhibited varieties they’d bred and named themselves, the idea being to decide whose fruit was heaviest. Then at the 1823 show, Mr Charlton from Adderston turned up with an Early York cabbage of 18lbs. The gooseberry judges praised it and the floodgates opened to all manner of plants in future years.

Fast forward a century or so to 1935 and the Northumberland Gazette was highlighting large potatoes cultivated by a local grower.

Around that time Geordie Shaw was growing cabbages so big that, legend has it, he could not get them through Hotspur Tower in his wheelbarrow, and had to detour in order to reach the show field!

The determination to grow a vegetable or fruit bigger and heavier than anyone else, and perhaps have it recorded in the Guinness Book of Records, has given rise to a breed of would-be super growers, and the pursuit of giant pumpkins is typical of this.

Ipswich-based seed firm Thompson & Morgan has challenged Britain’s gardeners to break the UK or world records by sponsoring the Autumn Pumpkin Festival since 2009.

Last year a new UK record of 1,884lb was set by brothers Ian and Stuart Paton of Hampshire, who claimed the £1,000 prize.

Had their pumpkin been little over 200lb heavier, they’d have banked a £10,000 cheque for breaking the world record. That title is held by Swiss gardener Ben Meier, who last year grew a 2,097lb monster.

Quality seed is the best starting point for giant vegetables. T & M stock Pumpkin Dill’s Atlantic Giant which has a proven track record for size, and eight seeds cost £3.69. However, they claim the heaviest specimen from the show each time, save the seeds and test them for viability then get them onto the market.

So this year’s choice in their catalogue is Paton Twins Giant at two seeds for £9.99 or one 5mm potted plant at £10.99, for UK delivery in May.

Dedication is the watchword for cultivating such monsters. At the height of growth the Paton pumpkin was gaining 35lb per day but it also received 100 gallons of water plus nutrients every 24 hours.

It’s time to start Googling online in search of special seeds, plants or advice if you’ve got big vegetables in mind.

My sweet potato crop was quite modest last year so it doesn’t help to read that a Lebanese grower dug one up weighing 24.9lb.

I was quite proud of the 13lb marrow – until news that someone in Norfolk had managed 100lb more.

Now I do love growing solid- hearted cabbages, and a little bit of weight suggests they are full of goodness, but how tough was that 76lb monster grown in Alaska and what did it taste like?

My ideal cucumber is 30cm long so I’d be disappointed if it reached one metre overnight. As for the 20lb carrot – no thanks. Give me sweet little container-grown Rondo any day!