Climbing French beans must be one of the top crops for yielding the most food, and the tastiest food, from the smallest space. But of course, it's not just about kilos on the scales - it's about flavour, table quality and how easy the plants are to grow. The recent trial revealed those that combined the best of all these qualities to gain the Award of Garden Merit.
One important feature of this trial was that not only were the plants grown on the trials field at Wisley but, thanks to the generosity of Alan Gray and Graham Robeson, the whole trial was replicated at their garden at East Ruston in Norfolk. The results from both trials were collated to arrive at the final award winners. Nine varieties were given awards.
Thirty one different varieties were grown, round podded and flat podded, and all were sown in the open ground on 16 May, the above view of the trial was taken on the 8 July - less than two months later.
Two flat podded types yielded the heaviest crop - ‘Musica' (976g per plant) and ‘Pantheon' (965g per plant).Two plants were grown up each leg of a four-legged wigwam so for each wigwam that gives 7.8kg/17lb 3oz for ‘Musica' and 7.7kg/17lb for ‘Pantheon'. That's a lot of beans from one wigwam. At that rate of production, how many wigwams does your family actually need? You see what I mean about impressive productivity for the area the plants actually occupy. The judges said that ‘Musica' was "flavoursome" and that ‘Pantheon' had a "sweet flavour".
‘Cobra' was the only round bean to gain an AGM while ‘Eva', with its oval pods, also gained an award.
Unfortunately, varieties with coloured pods - so valuable as ornamentals as well as food plants in small gardens - did not generally rise to high enough standards. The purple pods of 'Blauhilde', for example, only developed their colour when positioned on the plant to benefit from plenty of sunlight; shaded pods remained green. Only the yellow-podded ‘Golden Gate', yielding 735g per plant and described as having "golden, fleshy, flat pods with a sweet, fresh flavour" was of AGM standard.
But on top of all this... One finding from the trial struck home: "The crop remained largely pest-free". And that, when you're growing three wigwams of each of thirty one varieties all side by side in one plot - that is as impressive as the high yield of some varieties.
For more details of all the AGM winners, read the full report on the trial.
You can order seed of ‘Musica' from Garden Time
You can order seed of ‘Pantheon' from Mr Fothergills
You can order seed of ‘Cobra' from Marshalls Seeds and other seed companies
You can order seed of ‘Eva' from Moles Seeds and other seed companies.
You can order seed of ‘Golden Gate' from Dobies Seeds