Courgettes and marigolds are the order of the day

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Our gardening columnist Mandy Watson on why courgettes are the cream of the crop

ONE vegetable worth your while to grow is the courgette.

They’re pricey (and tasteless) in the shops, so you can really save money.

It’s a bit late to start them off from seed now, so buy plants from the garden centre. You’ll only need two or three for an average family.

Choose your variety carefully – one that crops in bad summers, like Cavili or Parthenon. These are parthenocarpic, which means they can set fruit without pollination.

I’ve grown Cavili for the past two summers, which have both been lousy but have still got decent crops.

Parthenon looks like shop-bought courgettes, dark green, but Cavili is very pale (a boon when you’re trying to hide a bumper crop in cakes or jam – they’ll never know).

Courgettes are spoilt brats. They need deep, rich soil, preferably a 2ftx2ft area enriched with good compost or other organic bulk.

They’re also thirsty, so it’s worth running a length of old hosepipe down to the roots so water can go directly where it needs to.

One thing I’m trying this year is a tip I picked up from the net – planting two spare courgettes in the top of a full compost bin.

The heat created by the vegetation rotting down boosts growth and the roots will get the benefit of all that new compost.

I’ve dug out two deep holes in the top and lined them with fully broken-down compost to give them a head start.

Plants bear both male and female flowers (fruits form behind the female ones).

Foodie types will rabbit on about deep frying male flowers stuffed with cheese – but frankly, life’s too short.

They need feeding well with a tomato fertiliser and keep on picking to keep fruit forming - pick them smaller than shop varieties for a better flavour.

Make sure you don’t water the crown of the plants, as they can be liable to rot or get grey mould in damp summers.

And if all goes well, you’ll be sick of the sight of them by September – that’s when the sneaky jam and cake making comes in.

Best jam I’ve made is courgette and ginger and courgette cake is very like carrot cake, moist and delicious.

Plant of week – pot marigold

Forget red, white and blue for the jubilee – what could be more English than the pot marigold (Calendula)?

It’s a dead-easy annual which will fill your garden with orange, red and yellow tints all summer.

These ones pictured seeded themselves by my pond late last summer and so are blooming early – they’re Touch of Red Mixed from Thompson and Morgan.

They look great contrasting with Heuchera Plum Pudding, especially when the water irises flower in the background.

They attract loads of beneficial insects, so plant them near your veg crops to aid pollination.