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The Independent Culture
WHAT is the new rose variety of the moment? What will the potato of the future be? This week we begin a series on the latest introductions. Seed merchants and horticulturists have always developed new varieties for commercial use, but they are now responding to demand from private growers. In supermarkets we are offered frilly, rosy salads once only seen in Mediterranean markets. Why should garden centres be any different?

Mini veg, the sort that appear in good restaurants, are among the newcomers that can now be raised at home. Some of them are a cheat, because you can always pick normal varieties when they are tiny, or grow three leeks to a hole to produce babies insteadof monsters. But some vegetables, like cauliflower and tomatoes, would never be mature enough to pick and eat unless you chose the mini versions. Dobies, Suttons and Mr Fothergill's (see suppliers below) all offer miniature versions of most vegetables.

Salad gardeners have seen many new arrivals over the last five years. Most are easy to manage - and still new enough to excite comment. Cut-and-come-again continuity lettuces, Italian misticanza (a selection of different salad leaves), red oak-leafed lettuce and red cos are a few examples. For winter salads, red chicory, corn salad, frizzy endive and Chinese cabbages are also relatively new. The best range is offered by Suffolk Herbs.

Pink Fir apple was the first of the salad potatoes to be found in private gardens. It is a knobbly, but delicious, waxy potato that still tastes new at Christmas. Belle de Fontenay and Charlotte are more conventional looking. They are available from Marshalls, which also has a new First Early called Accent. This variety may turn out to be the potato of the future.

Asparagus used to be something everyone avoided because it took at least three years to crop from seed. Now, male asparagus hybrids (the ones without the berries) have been developed which will produce edible spears within a year of sowing. Jersey KnightImproved, from Thompson & Morgan, is the one for people in a hurry - but only if you like your asparagus thick. I grow Martha Washington - a very old, green and thin variety - and to this I plan to add a few crowns of an early new hybrid, Franklin Fl, also from Thompson & Morgan.

Among the new disease-resistant vegetables is a carrot called Fly Away (Thompson & Morgan), said to repel carrot fly and still taste delicious. Johnsons has a new cucumber, Paska Fl Hybrid, bred to resist glasshouse diseases. These I cannot judge as I have grown neither, but like vegetables bred for a long shelf-life, disease-resistant varieties often seem to sacrifice flavour for strength.

Vegetables that are new to growers here, but have been popular on the Continent for years, are much more appealing to me. A white beetroot from Italy, Barbabietola di Chioggia, is among the most delicious. Another Italian import, a broccoli called de Cicco, is perfect for the private gardener. An old favourite from France, the yellow butterbean, has not been seen much over here. Perhaps this is because it needs more sun than we have, but Johnsons has one - Slenderwax - which may be more suitable for ourweather conditions.

SUPPLIERS: Samuel Dobie & Son Ltd, Broomhill Way, Torquay, Devon TQ2 7QW (01803 616 888). Suttons Seeds Ltd, Hele Road, Torquay, Devon TQ2 7QJ (01803 614614). Mr Fothergill's Seeds Ltd, Kentford, Newmarket, Suffolk CB8 7QB (01638 552 512). Suffolk Herbs,Monks Farm, Pantlings Lane, Kelvedon, Essex CO5 9PG (01376 572 456). SE Marshall & Co Ltd, Regal Road, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire PE13 2BR (01945 583 407). Thompson & Morgan, Poplar Lane, Ipswich, Suffolk IP8 3BU (01473 690 869). WW Johnson & Son Ltd, London Road, Boston, Lincolnshire PE21 8AD (01205 365 051)