CLUMBER GARDENER: Jersey Royal has gourmet potato rivals

When asked for my favourite tasting potato, I would, until recently, have unhesitatingly responded “Jersey Royals”, which are grown with the variety ‘International Kidney’.

This is also used as a maincrop potato for harvesting in September, but when picked prematurely in late May and June, it yields small, firm, waxy potatoes with an outstanding flavour, ideal with asparagus and the first broad beans, which are also in season at that time. For me the Jersey Royal still rules the roost amongst the “new” potatoes, but now has some serious rivals for flavour, from recently bred maincrop varieties which are now available for home gardeners to grow.

The aims of potato breeders have been largely to produce varieties with higher yields and with greater resistance to diseases such as potato blight and scab, using the wild South American species Solanum tuberosum. In the 1960s scientists in Scotland began looking at a species called Solanum phureja, the phureja group is valued for its excellent flavour and the first seedling from their breeding work, named ‘Mayan Gold’ was introduced about a decade ago.

‘Mayan Gold’ has long, oval tubers with a floury texture, deep golden coloured flesh and yellow skins. Its flavour is usually described as “unique” or “nutty”. They are best steamed rather than boiled and cooked very quickly, taking about half the cooking time of other varieties; cook them too long and the tubers tend to disintegrate. This variety is especially recommended for roasting.

‘Mayan Gold’ has a couple of siblings. ‘Mayan Queen’ is more vigorous, yielding broader, more rounded tubers than ‘Mayan Gold’, it has red eyes and is also recommended for roasting. ‘Mayan Twilight’ has a distinctive piebald appearance with red and yellow skin and cream and purple flesh and is an excellent salad variety.

All three are maincrops, harvested in September and need the same conditions as conventional varieties. They benefit from a long growing period and are ideally planted into warm soil in late March. Resistance to scab, blight and blackleg varies according to variety. We’ve grown all three in the walled kitchen garden at Clumber for the past couple of years; their yield may not be as high as other maincrops, but we have been impressed by their flavour.

Another brand new variety from the phureja group is ‘Apache’. It is a second early or early maincrop and can be harvested in August; its tubers are waxy, similar to a salad variety like ‘Charlotte’. The skins of ‘Apache’ are red and pale cream and the tubers are more rounded than the Mayans. The flavour is variously described as “buttery”, “nutty” and “chestnut-like”. Final selection is ‘Trixie’ which is a cross between ‘Charlotte’ and ‘Mayan Gold’; it has cream flesh and yellow skins with blue eyes and is best mashed, roasted or chipped.

Some of the supermarkets will be selling the Mayans this month; try them for flavour and if you are impressed, you can order seed potatoes from seed merchants and specialist suppliers this winter for planting next spring.

Jobs for the Month – September

Plant daffodil and narcissi bulbs. These can be grown in beds, mixed borders, in grass or lightly shaded woodland. Plant with a trowel or special bulb planter.

If your garden is lacking colour this month, plant late summer flowering perennials such as Michaelmas daisies, cimicifugas, autumn flowering gentians and chrysanthemums.

In moist, warm soil perennials will make good root growth to help them establish better for the winter. Bulbs and corms like schizostylis, colchicums and Cyclamen hederifolium also flower reliably at this time of year and are easy to grow.

When containers with summer flowering annuals begin looking tired, remove and compost the plants and plant them up with spring bedding and bulbs. There are many excellent violas in a variety of colours. Their smaller flowers combine well with smaller flowered multi-headed tulips such as Tulipa praestans ‘Van Tubergen’s Variety’ and the variegated leaved ‘Unicum’.

There is lots of harvesting to do in the vegetable garden. French and runner beans and maincrop potatoes will be cropping now. Autumn fruiting raspberries, such as ‘Autumn Bliss’ and perpetual strawberry varieties such as the superb flavoured ‘Mara des Bois’ will continue cropping if the sun keeps shining.