One of the common comments about my book is that people like to hear about my failures in the garden. So I thought it was time to write up another one.
At the end of 2010 I received an exciting parcel – a box of four chayote fruits. The chayote (Sechium edule) is an interesting plant to grow because the seed is encased in a fruit and won’t grow unless they’re left encased in the fruit. (For the science nerds among you, it’s a nice example of a recalcitrant seed – it doesn’t respond at all well to the usual storage techniques of being kept dry and cool.)
The guy who sent me the fruits was one of the authors of Grow and Eat Something Different, and not only has he managed to grow chayote successfully in the UK, but he sets out his method for doing so in the book.
The instructions were to leave the fruits on a windowsill, which I duly did. Within a couple of weeks they were starting to sprout, although getting a good look at them was tricky as they are far too spiny to handle without hefty gloves. (There are different varieties – they’re not all this spiny!)
I potted up the plants and left them somewhere cool. By March, the shoots were a foot tall, and the plants were potted up and living in the Grow Dome.
Another of the problems with chayote is that they are fussy about day length – they’re tropical plants who find our long summer days disturbing. The suggestion was to plant them somewhere partly shady, so they would be shaded for several hours a day. That’s a tall order in this garden, which is resolutely unshaded in high summer, but I tried two different locations – both requiring the plants to be in pots.
The first was on the patio, clambering up the trellis. The patio is quite well-shaded by the house and was my prime location for chayote. My second choice was up a fence on one side of the garden, where the fence shelters plants from the morning sun.
Chayote are quite endearing climbing plants, if (like me) you have a soft spot for tendrils.
Predictably, it was the plant on the patio that showed the most promise. By the middle of August, it was flowering:
And by the end of August I had one or two baby chayotes to coo over:
But the fun stopped there. Those fruits didn’t swell, let alone ripen. Eventually the plants were cut down by frost, having never achieved anything much. Did they get too much sun? Not enough water? Do they hate being grown in containers? Was it just a bad year? Who knows.
It’s not easy to get your hands on chayote fruit to try growing them, here in the UK. Obviously they can and are grown here in the UK, but it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do. I suspect this year, with its miserable weather, wouldn’t have suited them either. I may well try again when I have a new garden to play with, but in the meantime we have to chalk this one up to experience :)
Have you grown chayote? Do you know of a good source of the fruits, if someone wants to try growing their own? Leave your thoughts in the comments.