This year we visited the BBC Gardeners' World Live show at the NEC Birmingham to see what's new in the horticultural and allotment world and pick up great ideas that we could take home.
We were lucky - firstly with the weather, and secondly, with some of the really clever and quirky stuff that was there. It was hot sunshine and visitors were pouring through the gates all day. It was a real hive of excitement both indoors and out, around the Show Gardens and in the Floral Marquee.
Here are some of the features we noticed with the theme of growing crops. Some ideas are great for the consummate crop grower and some, fun and great for children to try.
Punchy pak chois
These are full-looking succulent leaves (right) that you can sow now outdoors and harvest from one to two months, depending on whether you want pickings of small leaves or larger leaves. Small leaves are suitable for garnishes or indeed eating straight away and large leaves suit stir fries and as wraps with rice within. Grow darker-leaf varieties with green-leaf so create an attractive arrangement on the plot as they grow.
Variegated chilli plants
Just when you think chilli plants cannot get any prettier with their tidy leaves and vibrant fruits, which can be multi-coloured in some plants, another variety comes along to do one better. We saw this beautiful chilli with variegated leaves (right). It will do really well in a conservatory during the summer or a well-ventilated greenhouse.
A riot of colour
This stand (right) really accentuates the vibrant colours you can achieve when growing crops. Here, the orange-flowered nasturtiums grow between bright yellow sweet peppers and dark, purple salad leaves. Nasturtiums are great as they offer attractive, as well as tasty sweet yet peppery flowers that make a great salad ingredient.
There's some real fun and creativity at the show and great imagination. Have you seen an allotment as a table centrepiece before (above)? The Solihull Neighbourhoods in Bloom have a great feature that is in effect a house made from flowers, herbs and vegetables. Just take a journey through the different rooms.
You can try growing parsley as a border on your own vegetable plot. Sow seeds of curly-leaved parsley in late summer for maturity in autumn, or sow in spring for summer plants.
The summer containers contained all kinds of combinations that you may not normally see. If you want crops of strawberries and tomatoes (right) producing good healthy harvests, raised containers and baskets are beneficial in that the fruits hang over the edge and don't make contact with soil, which can cause them to rot.
These are just some of the features at the show. Come along, and see for yourself the wealth of crops and plants, many of which you can buy and take home.