Woo-hoo! I managed to nab one of the last tickets for James Wong’s extra special talk at the RHS Lindley Library this week!

I was sat amongst the highest concentration of gardening knowledge for miles around, and that wasn’t just the books! As the room filled up, the audience got to sup a complimentary glass of wine. This was possibly designed to distract us from the fact that James’ projector wasn’t playing ball (the exact same thing happened to me last night though, so maybe that was karma!)

That didn’t matter though. James is such a good presenter that we could imagine every red, sugar sweet tomato and every gleaming crop of strawberries he spoke of. James comes at horticulture from a very different angle. He’s a scientist, and wants to explore all that ‘age old horticultural advice’. Us gardeners do tend to repeat received wisdom without question, and wisdom which isn’t always accurate…

So why do all these initiatives tell people to grow their own fruit and vegetables? They say it’s because they’ll taste better, but is that actually true? Scientifically not, but with some tips and tricks it’s possible to have some influence. RHS Wisley even allowed James to dig up half of their garden for his unique trials!

I don’t want to spoil too much for you, as this talk was a precursor to his book, being launched in 2015, and which is set to change the way we grow fruit and vegetables, and the varieties we grow.

A few things I learnt through the fact-drenched hour: Children are hyper-sensitive to bitter flavours, so this explains their constant dislike for broccoli and sprouts…! It’s almost like an internal ‘toxic alarm’! Interestingly, Italians have the most resistance to those bitter flavours, which explains their love of Chicory, Campari and bitter Espresso….

It’s interesting too that- technically- supermarket favourite Strawberry Elsanta is actually super sweet, but that sweetness is trapped in the fibre of the fruit, the fibre makes it a better storing fruit. As supermarkets pay by weight, not flavour, the presence of sweetness makes no difference to them. But, did you know that if you leave strawberries out on the side, out of the fridge, the sweetness can develop!

To increase the sugar/sweetness content in your crops, you basically need to reduce the water content in them, and give the plants maximum light, i.e. putting them into a stressful situation! This crudely translates as ‘less work for better flavour’! Yields can be slightly less, but at least you don’t experience gluts of vegetables you can’t deal with…!

Another fruit fact: Those supermarket blueberries have 3 times less antioxidants than other blueberries (especially those that you grow yourself!), and the antioxidants are within in skin, so the bigger the fruit the less there is. Supermarkets only want bigger berries, so don’t have to pick as many fruit to fit into the punnets!

And another thing, I kinda already knew this, but… Beetroot, Swiss Chard and Sugar Beet are all the same plant, but bred for different uses. And, that earthy taste of beetroot, you can’t change it, it’s variety based! Keep pouring on the balsamic!

Then, there was a huge section on tomatoes, with some incredible tips and tricks, which I won’t reveal for now (unless you were there, of course!)… we especially learnt why tomatoes are similar to blokes…!

That’s all for now, just a small, small taster! But, ‘ll be blogging again on this early next year, to coincide with the launch of his book!

  • Sounds like a really interesting talk – looking forward to the book 🙂

    November 20, 2014

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