As a staple of Christmas Dinner, this seemed a good moment to take a look at the awards that came out of this year's parsnip trial at Wisley. Twenty one different varieties were grown, from old and familiar names like ‘Tender and True' to the very latest F1 hybrids. Ten were given Awards of Garden Merit (AGM).
Seed was sown on 21 April at 2.5cm/1in intervals in rows 16in/40cm apart. And here's a crucial part of the growing regime: the whole crop was covered with Enviromesh as protection against root fly. It was briefly removed for thinning the seedlings to 3in/7.5cm in June, again once for weeding, and finally removed in September. The result: it proved very successful in keeping off the root fly.
By the end of September the crop was ready to harvest although most gardeners will leave their parsnips in the ground and use them as needed. They will continue to bulk up in to the autumn.
Almost half the entries were given AGMs, a testament to the progress in breeding parsnips in recent years. New award winners were: ‘Albion' (above): a uniform crop of unusually white, smooth-skinned roots; ‘Archer': good for the village show as well as the table; ‘Lancer' (left): short, slender roots, ideal for baby-root crops; ‘Palace': good quality roots, with canker resistance; ‘Panache': very evenly tapered roots with smooth skins; ‘Picador': less tapered than many, so with more bulk per root.
Four varieties which received the AGM in 1993 or 2001 were still considered good enough to retain their award. ‘Cobham Improved Marrow': elegant tapering roots and canker resistant; ‘Dagger': smooth roots with a shallow crown mean easy cleaning; ‘Gladiator'; the first F1 hybrid still has star quality; ‘Javelin'; another easy-to-wash variety with canker resistance.
Finally, amongst those no longer considered of Award of Garden Merit standard was ‘Tender and True'. The expert panel of assessors considered that this was now outclassed, having been superseded by more modern varieties, but that it continued to sell well because of its appealing name.
It's also worth noting that all the top varieties are F1 hybrids except ‘Cobham Improved Marrow' and ‘Lancer'. However, unlike many crops, the price difference between open-pollinated and F1 Hybrid varieties is relatively small so seed price need not be a serious factor in choosing varieties.
Hoping you're enjoying home-grown Christmas parsnips. If not, you know which varieties to try for next year.