Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hot Stuff Chillies

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hot Stuff Chillies

Article excerpt

Byline: Pattie Barron

CARAMBA! In our cooking and in our gardens, we're going crazy for chilli peppers.

You can buy chilli pods fresh or dried, in the form of paste or powder -- but it's much more fun to watch the carnivalcoloured fruits change from lime and yellow to bright orange and scarlet as summer progresses, on your patio or terrace -- and then have your own harvest.

Chilli afficionados get all het up about the heat of each variety -- it's measured by the number of units on the Scoville scale -- so that while a sweet pepper is zero, a jalapeno will measure an eyewatering 3,000 and a habanero scores a searing 500,000 units.

However, for many of us, the decorative addition to the late summer garden is what counts, and pepper plants, whether spicy or sweet, are both highly colourful and hugely ornamental.

Chichester's West Dean Gardens is preparing for its three-day chilli fiesta, where you can samba and salsa, taste till your tongue sizzles and even pitch your tent, making it the horticultural world's equivalent of Glastonbury. Gardens supervisor Sarah Wain grows more than 250 varieties there. "Every time I water the plants, they're a joy to look at," she says. "The fruits are full of colour and the shiny skins reflect light. They also pretty much look after themselves and during this hot summer they thought it was Christmas every day."

Wain is considered the UK's chilli plant expert and this summer, in West Dean's glasshouses, has been conducting a trial of compact patio varieties for the RHS, from which the best will be selected and given the Award of Garden Merit. Hot contenders include her favourite, Riot, which she describes as having masses of skinny upright pods in glorious lacquered scarlet, all over a small bushy plant: "Six pots of those down a dining table would look fantastic."

Wain says peppers are easier to grow than tomatoes, provided they have heat and light. "If you leave them out in the cold and wet, they will get stressed and drop their flowers. …

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