Sunday, 10 February 2013

The Glorious Bean - a Guest Post

Runner Bean "Scarlet Empire" in Marksvegplot, Sept 2012

All my regular readers know I love beans, and I'm sure many of them will have read my post "Beans Galore" from a few days ago. Jude, the lady I mentioned in that post, has kindly written this Guest Post for me on the subject of her bean collection. Thank you, Jude!


Well here it is, my first ever blog post, my thanks go to Mark for inviting me to do a ‘guest spot’ on his brilliant blog!

My interest in ‘The Glorious Bean’ started in 2005 when my dream of moving to the country and growing my own vegetables finally came to fruition. For many years I had craved the ‘good life’ and part of the dream was to be as self-sufficient as I possibly could. Initially I thought that saving my own vegetable seed was a good way of saving money – which it is! However when I started to research the subject, it became apparent that it was about so much more than that.

Did you know that according to charity Garden Organic 98% of vegetable varieties have disappeared over the last century? This shocking statistic is largely due to a European Law that bans the sale of seed that is not on the approved variety list. Without getting into too much politics this basically means that the approved list concentrates on the more commercially successful varieties rather than the ‘garden-friendly’ diverse, local or historical varieties that are dropped because they are not commercially viable.

My seed collecting really kicked off when I joined Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library (HSL). What I found fascinating (and still do) is the diverse variety of sizes, colours and tastes that these old varieties offer to the home grower. Furthermore they have such wonderful names and stories behind them, who could resist the Afghan Purple Carrot, District Nurse Bean, Bloody Warrior Lettuce, Rent Payer Broad Bean or the Whippersnapper Tomato! My main seed collecting interest lies mainly with legumes because they are so easy to grow and a doddle to save seed from, so that’s really how I came to have a collection of approximately 40+ bean varieties!

I thought I’d share with you all a few stories about some of my collection:

Firstly the, Crimson Flowered Broad Bean:

Red-flowered broad beans were described in seed lists in the late 18th century, and what we have today is either the same one or a close variant of it. The variety seems to have come close to extinction, until an elderly lady from Kent donated it to the HSL in 1978. It had been grown by her father who was a market-gardener, who had been given the seeds during his childhood years a century earlier.

Next we have the Runner Bean ‘Painted Lady’:

A Victorian variety that's been making a well-deserved comeback as gardeners rediscover its reliability, productivity and beauty – the plant has bicoloured flowers in red and white.

Lastly we have the Climbing French Bean ‘Major Cook's’:

This bean was given to a HSL donor by his father in 1960. The donor’s father had been given seeds of this variety by Major Cook, a colleague of his during his work for The Commonwealth War Graves Commission in the 1920s. Major Cook is thought to have developed the variety which has pretty purple-violet flowers which are followed by stringless beans with a very fine flavour.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief foray in to the world of heritage vegetable varieties and the fascinating stories behind some of my collection. I also hope that it has inspired you to appreciate that we can all make a difference by sharing and growing these ‘lost’ varieties to revive and conserve our rich vegetable heritage. I’ll leave you with a word of caution – for your own sake’s don’t get me started about my rare pea collection ;-)


  1. Yes please...rare peas!!! So enjoyed this post and the information. This "approved variety list" you mention doesn't sound good. You might like to goggle about two growers and their seedhouses in Canada: Annapolis Seeds and Salt Spring Seeds.

    Again, great post especially the stories with the seeds.

  2. You really ought to start your own blog Jude.

  3. I share your enthusiasm for the crimson flowered broad bean - grew it last summer and it was so lovely to look at plus tasty/productive. Enjoyed your post.

  4. I love all the names, makes you wonder where they came from, but I'm sure there's always a story behind them. What a great first post Jude, how about your own blog?

  5. Cool beans Jude ;) I had no idea that there were rare beans (or peas) and I love the fact you have your own collection! I hope a rare pea follow up is planned : )

  6. I enjoyed this post, thank you! Lovely to hear of all the varieties that you've got. I'm hoping to grow a heritage bean myself this year - a Lazy Housewife bean given to me a couple of years ago. I managed to grow a couple of seed pods from a last leftover bean so am very excited about the bean prospects for this year.

  7. I grew crimson flowered broad beans last year The flowers are a beautiful colour.

  8. Enjoyable article. Maybe Jude could start a blog?

  9. Interesting to think of the stories behind seeds. Thanks for the informative post Jude! Perhaps Mark (and others) could encourage you to start a blog!

  10. Wonderful beans. I'm a bean lover myself. One year I grew about 15 varieties. My problem is the choice between variety and production in my little garden.

  11. Wonderful introduction thanks for the info Mark.

  12. Thank you all for your great comments :-)

    I have started a blog but don't really have much spare time at the minute to do much with it (I'm working full time and doing a part time degree in graphic design). Maybe we can organise a seed swap as Mark suggested sometime?


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