Sheffield allotment grower puts vegetables to the test

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He fought off the competition in TV series The Big Allotment Challenge – and now Sheffield gardener Rob Smith is sowing the seeds of further success.

The flight attendant has built a parallel career as a gardening expert since winning the BBC Two series a year ago.

Now allotment grower Rob has embarked on a new project in which groups of gardeners around the country have been recruited to grow different varieties of rare vegetables from seeds.

And if the trial produces good results, the seeds will be available for sale in 2017.

Plans are also being made to bring out a range of plants, and he is carrying out research for a book on the subject of heritage vegetables, his specialist area.

Rob already has his own collection of seeds available through the firm Dobies of Devon, but the trial vegetables are more exotic.

They are all types that will grow in the UK – such as tomatoes, chillies, courgettes, pumpkins and beans – found by Rob on his travels in countries including South Africa, America and Australia.

“The gardeners don’t have a clue what variety they are growing, only that its tomato ‘A’, or pumpkin ‘B’,” said Rob, who grew up in Killamarsh but identifies as a Sheffielder.

“They know what veg it is, roughly the size and I sent them a guide with basic information about growing them.

“Most people don’t think they can grow as they are from hot countries, but what you have to remember is that all these counties were colonised by Europeans over the last few hundred years.

“We took our food with us to the country, so all I’m doing is bringing it back, and it will grow brilliantly.”

Visitors to Clumber Park near Worksop will soon be able to see Rob’s heritage vegetables and cut flowers growing in the walled garden, while the range of plants will be aimed at people who don’t have the space in their garden to grow from seed.

“I’m in talks with the heritage seed library – Prince Charles is the patron – to bring back some rare veg from the edge of extinction and hopefully get them back on the market for everybody to grow at home, and I’ll be talking at the Edible Garden Show in Birmingham in March, along with a host of other gardeners,” added Rob, who now lives in Kiveton Park and keeps an allotment in Todwick, Rotherham.

There are ‘a few other exciting developments’ – but these are being kept under wraps for now.

“It’s all good and keeping me really busy,” he said.