Exotic species we can eat and keep all year round

Red chillies seen in an NGS open garden event recently.

There are over 10,000 different chili pepper varieties in the world - Credit: Marcus Brown

While we might be currently reflecting on global travel in the middle of the current health crisis, it's worth thinking about the more positive aspects of travel.

Long-haul travel has, since its inception, allowed us to search out exotic plant species to enhance our lives.

It's thanks to the courageous efforts of Victorian plant hunters that we can enjoy the sights, and even tastes, of plants we would otherwise be oblivious to.

Imagine not being able to drive past gardens filled with such uplifting and almost ubiquitous species such as rhododendrons, camelias and azaleas.

These explosions of colour ensure that another part of my day is uplifting.

Giving more time and gratitude for such floral displays makes life well worth living.

We are so blessed in our sandy corner of this island that they can at times go unnoticed, but not by me.

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Flowers give us heady scent and vibrant colour that can mentally, at least, take us to say, the Caribbean, for a moment.

This is especially welcome in the depths of Winter.

They do have a shelf life in what they offer us in our every day lives. Flowers are OK, as my allotment neighbour said: "But you just can’t eat ‘em."

Another exotic species we can eat and keep all year round is the chili pepper. There are over 10,000 different chili pepper varieties in the world and you can dare to eat them all.

They have different shapes, heat, flowers and flavours as well as their own heat scale, called the Scoville scale.  

They also have their admirers,  known as ‘chili heads’ who can develop a mild, if not extreme, obsession for this gifted plant.

Personally, I think I’m over my extreme phase but with help I am now in the moderate category. By this I mean I am able to limit the varieties I grow to around the 25.

I try and start sowing the seeds in February after negotiating an indoor space with my chili-tolerant wife.

This year, my son has gone to university so I have been allocated the loft area which is ideal. It keeps warm up there for most of the day and there is plenty of bright sunlight away from this wind.

The seeds look like minute crisps and go into loamy and sandy compost if I can locate some. If not, potting compost with sand for drainage seems to work just as well.

After potting up the seedlings when they are bearing a leaf or two, they can also go out into the big wide world which for them is the greenhouse, to mix with the bigger boys that are the tomatoes and cucumbers.

If you don’t have the luxury of a greenhouse, you can have them against a sunny wall or even grow one or two on the window sill.

Indoor spaces can get messy so need to be agreed in advance.

Feed them with tomato feed and they'll reward you with bejewelled bushes around September.

I repeat this sowing regime every fortnight to ensure I have more than enough chillies to store and bore friends with. They freeze well so that’s another benefit.

Chillies were first cultivated in Peru in the 1790s from the heatless peppers. They are the only domesticated capsicum species that has no wild relatives.

The heatless pepper is in itself almost 6,000 years old and originates from Bolivia.

Generally I find the hotter the chili is on the Scoville scale, the harder it seems to be to get fruit.

That might be just me and a subconscious effort to avoid the macho eating of a Scotch Bonnet or California Reaper varieties of my youth.

They also have such exciting names and back stories like the Padron pepper where every one in eight is substantially hotter and capable of blowing another hole in your head.