4 November 2016

Which tomatoes should I grow?

One of my favourite vegetables to grow is the tomato. I love the smell of the plants, the excitement as the first tomatoes start to ripen in high summer, and most of all the great taste - so much better than supermarket tomatoes. Each year I grow a number of varieties. I like to have a good range of colour and sizes, particularly for salads. I also like to grow some tomatoes that are particularly good for cooking. I thought I'd share my views on the varieties I have grown over the last couple of years. I'm always interested to hear from people what varieties they have had success with, so feel free to add your comments.

tomato harvest

As a bit of background, I grow my tomatoes outdoors in SE England in pots against a south-facing wall where they get lots of sun. Some varieties might prefer a greenhouse, or somewhere nearer the Med, but my list should give a bit of an idea about what will grow well here in the UK. I've listed the seed merchants that I bought the seeds from, which are the Organic Gardening Catalogue (OGC), Thompson & Morgan (T&M) and Franchi Seeds.

Black Cherry (OGC): a cherry tomato with an attractive dark red colour. Unlike many cherry tomatoes, they were late to ripen and had a relatively low yield per plant. The flavour was pleasant but nothing special. Verdict: not one I would grow again.

Sun Cherry (T&M): another cherry tomato, which ripened early. They have a nice sweet flavour (although can easily over-ripen and start to taste a little winey). Some of them were very small, even for a cherry, and I found the skins were prone to splitting. Verdict: there are better cherry toms out there.

Sweet Baby (T&M): probably my favourite cherry tomato. This cultivar ripens early and grows prolifically. It has a good sweet flavour that makes it ideal for salads. Verdict: one to grow again.

Sweet Baby

Gardeners Delight: This is a classic cultivar available from most seed merchants and grown by gardeners for years. It is reliable and produces large cherry tomatoes. Personally I think its flavour is a bit bland and it tastes like something you could buy in any greengrocers. Verdict: be adventurous and try something else.

Matina (OGC): a medium-sized tomato with a pleasant if not outstanding flavour. For me its big selling point is that it ripens early, often two or three weeks before most other cultivars. It is also fairly hardy. A few years ago I got hit by blight, and the Matinas were the only variety that seemed to show some resistance. Verdict: worth growing for its early ripening and hardiness.

Orange Bourgoin (OGC): a French variety with an attractive yellow/orange skin and small to medium-sized fruit. It has a good flavour with nice acidity. Its yield is reasonably good and and it ripens well into autumn. Verdict: grow again.

Marmande (OGC): a variety that consistently grows well, with a good flavour. Medium to large size. It crops relatively early and well into autumn. A variety that is great raw and cooked. Verdict: a good'un, though I'll be greedy and opt for the Super Marmande.

Super Marmande (T&M): a larger variety of marmande which produces a good yield of large beefsteak tomatoes even when grown outdoors. I find them great both cooked and raw. They ripen from mid August to early October. Verdict: one of my favourite tomatoes to grow.

Cuor di Bue (Franchi): this is a classic Italian beefheart variety which I grew for the first time this year. I got a few good tomatoes from each plant, but yield was low and by mid-September they started to look a bit sad. This is a hugely popular variety in Italy, and does taste good, but frankly I think the UK is just too cold for it. Verdict: only worth growing if you have a greenhouse, or live in Italy...

San Marzano (Franchi): this is the classic Italian plum tomato. I find it grows surprisingly well in the UK. It often doesn't ripen until mid to late August, but with good weather continues to ripen into early October. It produces medium sized plum tomatoes, with few seeds, and is particularly delicious when cooked. Yields pretty well once it gets going. Verdict: high on my must-grow list.

San Marzano

Principe Borghese (Franchi): another plum tomato which produces slightly smaller fruits than the San Marzano. I find that the yield isn't quite as good as San Marzano, and it doesn't ripen quite so late into autumn. While I'm at it, the flavour isn't quite as good as San Marzano. Verdict: grow San Marzano instead if you want a plum tomato.

Tomatillo (Franchi): the tomatillo isn't actually a tomato, but is related. The bushy plants produce a good number of green fruits, which have a tart zingy flavour. They make a good addition to a salsa, or mixed into a tomato salad, but lack the versatility of true tomatoes. They have a fairly long season, starting to ripen in early July. It is worth noting that tomatilloes are not self-fertile, so if you are going to grow them you will need at least two plants. Verdict: worth growing a couple of plants for a bit of flavour and colour variety.


  1. Black cherry - much the same, looked fun and helped the colours in the bowl, but lacked taste. I grew Blue Bayou too and another good-looker but little taste

    1. It seems to be hard to find a darker coloured tomato that actually tastes good! I grew Black Russian a few years ago which I seem to remember tasted okay but didn't yield that well. I might try that again next year.