Turning up the heat

For the last few years, we’ve been growing chilli plants in the lower half of our lean-to glasshouse in the Walled Garden. This is an important part of an effort to get more ‘edibles’ in Winterbourne’s only original greenhouse, dating back to the Edwardian period. The Walled Garden during that time would have been used as a vegetable garden, so it’s safe to assume that plenty of greenhouse crops would have been grown in the neighbouring lean-to glasshouse too. Head Gardener, Dan, reveals all.

We like to grow as many varieties of chillies as possible from all over the world, and we label them with their country of origin and their respective Scoville Scale ratings to help give you an idea which ones are the hottest and how they might be used.

The hottest chilli we’ve grown this year is called the Etna Chilli. It ranks a scorching 40,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU) on the Scoville Scale. It was even voted the 9th hottest chilli by BBC Gardeners World in their 2006 ‘Hottest Chilli’ trials!

If milder chillies are your thing, then we’ve also grown plenty of those too. The best in my opinion are Thai Green and Kashmiri varieties. The latter is famed for its colouring properties as much as its flavour. It’s often used in curry pastes to add a deep red colour, popular in certain dishes and regions.

I always really enjoy watching the more unusual varieties develop into different shapes, sizes and colours. Several years ago, we grew a chilli called Bulgarian Fish which produced really big, elongated fruit. That one remains my favourite, but this year it has been closely rivalled by the Hungarian Black and Purple Jalapeno varieties which, as their names suggest – have deep purple-coloured fruits.

Chillies are really easy to grow at home. You can even grow them on a kitchen windowsill if you haven’t got a greenhouse like ours. They have a long growing season so sow your seeds early in February and keep potting them on until they’re in something like a 5-litre pot. They like as much sun and heat as possible, but once they’ve started growing, they can continue doing so quite happily outdoors from about June onwards.

Don’t forget to stake your plants so they don’t collapse under their own weight and feed with high potassium liquid fertiliser weekly to ensure a bumper crop. It’s also worth noting that chillies will stop flowering and cropping unless they are harvested regularly, so get picking!

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