Homegrown Revolution

James Wong isn't just the telegenic face of exotic gardening. His background is as an ethnobotanist, studying the relationship between people and what they grow.

Author: James Wong

Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicholson

James Wong isn’t just the telegenic face of exotic gardening. His background is as an ethnobotanist, studying the relationship between people and what they grow.

Apparently, the Great British public is getting it all wrong.

The patio potato planter may herald a welcome new interest in grow-your-own but our own potatoes are the most expensive any of us will ever eat. The same goes for other staples farmed over vast hectares for the supermarkets. What back-garden and allotment good lifers should be concentrating on, Wong says, is rarities and treats. He spent two years test-growing fruit and veg that never usually make it to this country (he did stipulate that the wherewithal to grow them should be easy to find) or, if they do, are turned into expensive luxuries by airmiles. He also included overlooked edibles prized by other cultures, like dahlias and day lilies. And, despite dreadful weather and no exotic horticultural kit, he came away with a whole bookful, many easier to grow as well as more rewarding financially than current favourites.

Not all of Wong’s plants are much to look at but he bolsters his argument with beautifully photographed recipes. Just what the post-mangetout generation needs to score serious dinner party points.

Five to grow

For the dinner party points

Cucamelons are hard watermelons the size of a grape that taste of cucumber – as a bonus, they’re drought-proof

For more than just a meal

Asparagus peas follow on from beautiful burgundy flowers at a fraction of the usual £5 for 150g in Asian grocers

For natural food colouring

The Japanese beefsteak plant produces luminous fuchsia pigment when you boil up its leaves

For the mouth feel

Electric daisies snap, crackle and pop in your mouth like space dust

For bug deterrence

Eucalyptus lemon bush, from the Outback, repels flies and mosquitoes