Jolly green giants: Bernard Lavery's weighed 710lb. Ernie Woodrow transported his in a Rolls Royce. Julie Aschkenasy meets a man who loves his greens

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The Independent Culture
Bernard Lavery regards his work as 'the fun end of gardening'. He grows giant, prize-winning fruit, vegetables and flowers. He is very enthusiastic. 'At one time my giant pumpkin was growing about 3in in circumference every day - you could almost see it growing.' The pumpkin ended up weighing 710lb.

As the giants expert for Garden News, Mr Lavery knows his onions. The Guinness Book of Records bears testimony to 12 of his successes, which include the world record for heaviest cabbage at 124lb (1989), longest parsnip at 171.5in (1990) and heaviest Brussels sprout at 18lb 3oz.

'I got into giants when I tried to grow a really big pumpkin about 12 years ago. I bought seeds that purported to grow specimens of 500lb, but I ended up with 80lb. I know that I'm not the best gardener in the world, but certainly not the worst, so I contacted the President of the World Pumpkin Confederation in America. He gave me some seeds from his personal seed box and I realised it was the seed at fault. I broke the world record in 1989. It was so satisfying, even though it only stood for three days.'

He went on to start the British National Pumpkin Society in the Lincolnshire town of Spalding. The 400 members 'come from all walks of life' and receive newsletters and three seeds from his best pumpkin every year. 'I told Geoff Capes if he grows any giants he will have to lift them himself]'

Mr Lavery's new mission is to introduce the pleasures of growing monster veg to a wider public. The Worldwide Seed Club started a few weeks ago and he has already received 600 applications. 'All members will get seeds from my giants. They are unregistered seeds, which doesn't mean they are in any way inferior - they are probably better seeds than you can buy anywhere in the world - but it means all members of the club can try seeds. As it costs me pounds 900 to register one variety, I need to be sure of uniformity and also to be sure that they are different from any other on the market. The MAFF (we call them the mafia) has given me permission to market seeds for trial and evaluation, and all the packets are thus marked. My members will be the only ones who have access to them and hopefully some of them will report back to me.'

Apparently they taste good, too. 'People have a misconception that giants are tough, tasteless and horrible, but if they are harvested at the growing stage they taste the same as normal veg - or even better.'

The world, though, is fraught with skulduggery. 'I have heard of people staying up all night with shotguns to protect their prize veg. It's all caused through jealousy. Touch wood, I haven't had any trouble. Giant veg is one area where a novice can beat the world. All you need is the right seed, a few basic instructions and a bit of luck.

'Every year we hold the Garden News Giant Vegetable, Fruit and Flower Competitions. One year it was at Alton Towers. One contestant, Ernie Woodrow, had problems. 'Bernard,' he said, 'I have a pumpkin and I can't move it]'. We phoned the local radio station and in the end his pumpkin arrived in a Rolls Royce. My record-breaking cabbage had to be lifted onto the lorry with a crane. It was 8ft 6in and 124lb. Every time it moved I nearly had a heart attack.'

Giant flowers are his latest development. His 13ft 9in petunia is now over 15ft and still growing. 'I can't see why I can't double it in size this year. My aim is to break another three world records with flowers but I'm keeping the details secret'.

To join the Giant Seed Club write to: Bernard Lavery, Baytree Nursery, Spalding, Lincolnshire PE12 6JU. Membership free.

(Photograph omitted)