Out and about the UK and Southern Ireland

7th Sep 2000

The period from the middle of July through to early September was rather hectic to say the least, I don't think I have ever travelled so much in such a short space of time.

Potato Maxine
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I started off by going up to Scotland to meet up with some really good friends of mine and to spend a couple of days there visiting various exhibitors gardens. I stayed with Jim Kirkness on the borders and what a lovely garden he and his wife Rae have. Jim is well known in the vegetable world having held various offices in the Scottish branch of the National Vegetable Society. Jim doesn't grow as many vegetables these days, but what he has is grown natural with the only aid being a greenhouse. He has no polytunnels whatsoever and doesn't want to get involved in the use of artificial lights etc.

Jim tried both my new crosses of celery and I have to say that Moonbeam crossed with Ideal as well as Lathom crossed with Ideal looked fantastic towards the middle of July and there is no doubt that having seen it also grown well in other gardens that these crosses are here to stay. As Jim now only has a comparatively small vegetable plot he had to construct a small raised bed system to plant the celery and both were given copious amounts of water on a daily basis.


From Scotland I travelled down to Gateshead by kind invitation of the Gateshead Show committee and I must say that I was immensely impressed by the whole show. The attention to the finest detail to make this two day show a growing success is evident everywhere. It is certainly a perfect family show with even sand pits being catered for indoors to keep the smallest children happy.

What astounded me in the vegetable classes were a pair of blanch leeks from Jackie Stewart of Saltwell, one measured 11 inches around and the other just over 11 and both were nearly 16 inches to the tight button. What really amazed me was the superb quality of them but more than that was their size during the third week of July, they were an amazing pair. He had a couple of bad years on the growing side with his leeks not performing to expectations so he grassed over the beds for two years and didn't grow any leeks during that period. The rest the soil had must have paid dividends for him to produce such massive leeks so early on in the season.

Other Growers

From the show I then went to see John Soulsby, John and I have been friends from many years and he is the only registered leek nursery in the country so I was more than pleased to see how his set up had changed drastically since I saw him last. John doesn't believe in half measures and goes the full Monty as regards his growing techniques. If a certain bed needs building or covered over then it gets done and it was quite evident that all the hard work and the financial outlay involved has paid dividends. His pot leeks were massive and the blanch leeks at that time were 9 inches around and 12 inches to the button with plenty of growth evident.

From Johns I then went over the see Peter Holdens' garden, Peter is the current world record holder for a pair of blanch leeks and if what I saw there in July is anything to go by, he won't be far off breaking his own record this year. The blanch leek that he uses is his own selection from Ivor Maces Welsh seedling and I have to confess that I have never seen leeks looking so impressive. Peter grows them in a single row in raised beds with only 14 inches between each leek and when I was there they measured 9.5 inches around and 16 inches to the button.

You will be able to read how Peter gets these wonderful leeks as I have written a special article on his growing techniques which will be in Garden News later on in the year. Peter Holden also had marvellous Moonbeam crossed with Ideal in his bed and they were the best celery that he had ever grown up to that point and were noticeably superior to the ordinary Ideal.

Southern Ireland

I was only home a few days before I was off again, this time to Southern Ireland where I had been invited to judge the Tullamore one day show where they have a fantastic attendance of over 35,000 people. This was a lovely and different experience as some of the classes, particularly the potato ones, were judged in a different way. The prize money was good, a collection of five kinds of vegetables had a first prize of £250.00 whilst a dish of 6 potatoes had a first prize of £250.00 as well. However, don't get exited and start booking your fare over, they are strictly all Ireland classes. The single potato classes had first prize money of £20.00 and the classes were as follows : 6 first early potatoes, 6 British Queens, 6 Kidney shaped potatoes, 6 round potatoes, 6 seed potatoes, 6 any old Traditional potato variety and 6 cooked potatoes. The latter was a very interesting class and I would love to see more dishes like that in some of our shows.

Incidentally the dish of 6 potatoes was a special class sponsored by An Bord Glas and the exhibitor had to win at a qualifying show first in order to enter this event. The class was as follows: A dish of 6 potatoes of any variety. The variety to be correctly named. Each tuber should be free from skin blemishes, be true to type and weigh approximately 6 ozs (170kg) As this was a quality championship, the adjudicators took note of the dry matter (D.M.C) content of the particular variety exhibited.

They had a strict pointing system for judging them from 100 marks which was as follows.

1 Cloth: This should be a moist opaque cloth large enough to exclude all light from the tubers. 5 Marks

2 Container: This should be an aid to presentation and should allow the tubers to be seen as fully as possible. 5 Marks

3 Name: A neatly printed, correctly spelt name, on a well placed, appropriately sized card is the objective here. 5 Marks

4 Presentation Plus Rose-End Out: The overall exhibit should look well, and be pleasant on the eye. Decorations are allowed e.g. herbs, potato leaves, potato flowers etc. The Rose-End contains the eyes and the tubers should be placed on the container with this end pointing outwards. The other end, known as the 'Heel-End', is where the tuber has been attached to the mother seed. 5 Marks

5 Variety: Traditional floury, high dry matter Irish varieties will be favoured. 10 Marks

6 Shape and Uniformity: The tubers should be true to type. Aim to have them so similar that they are like peas in a pod. 10 Marks

7 Eyes: Shallow eyes are an advantage, except in varieties which have naturally occurring deep eyes, e.g. Skerry Champion, Kerrs' Pink, etc. 10 Marks

8 Weight: Each tuber should weigh approximately 170 grams (6 ounces) 10 Marks

9 Condition: Fresh healthy tubers, with an absence of skin diseases such as Common Scab, Powdery Scab, Black Scurf, Sliver Scurf, etc. is required. 20 Marks

10 Internal Condition: High dry matter content is a definite advantage. Avoid internal disorders such as Spraing, Boast (Hollow Heart), Internal Rust Spot etc. Remember, the judge is very likely to cut one of your tubers. 20 Marks

I was very interested in how they decided on the DMC and their method was to cut right through one potato in each dish and the two cut pieces were then rubbed together. If the potato frothed up when rubbed it would be too wet and the best one would be the type that didn't froth up at all.


With typical Irish humour, the reply that I had initially from the show manager Tom Maher when I asked him how they judged dry matter content was: ‘they should be so dry that when eaten they should stick to the throat to such an extent that they would have to be washed down with Guinness' - brilliant.


The period from the middle of July through to early September was rather hectic to say the least, I don't think I have ever travelled so much in such a short space of time. Firstly to Scotland, then to Gateshead and then off to Southern Ireland.
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Prize-winning exhibition vegetable seeds give you the advantage whether growing for show or just for the family. You can see our range of top quality selected seeds and horticultural sundries in our online shop