In my excitement to try new varieties, I often over order on potatoes and onions. 'Never mind', I think, 'I'll just give them away to friends who also grow their own.' 'Um, no thanks,' my friends say. 'What!' I exclaim in surprise that not everyone is scrambling for my left overs.

The problem is efficiency. Onions and potatoes are cheap to buy in the supermarket and take up valuable space for most of the summer in the garden. You could argue that your home-grown spuds will taste better but this is no guarantee. Although I've harvested many delicious potatoes from my own garden, I've also wasted a summer's worth of watering on potato plants that produced only a few potatoes no bigger than my thumb. So I can see their point.

I still obviously grow potatoes, and each year I still over order as I try new varieties, but I've been making more of an effort to grow things that are expensive to buy or difficult to find in the supermarket. This is what prompted me to try to grown salsify.

I bought the seeds from DT Brown who only offer the variety Sandwich Island. The description on the website intrigued me but wasn't particularly helpful.

Looks a little like a thin parsnip, the roots will stand through the winter, improving with age. Has a wonderfully refined, delicate flavour quite unlike any other vegetable.

I direct sowed the seed and had about a dozen plants spring up. I harvested some of the plants over the winter but the roots were very small so I left the rest in until I needed the room this week.

Salsify plants left over winter in the vegetable beds.

The roots still look nothing like the photo on DT Brown's website so I'm guessing the parched and baking summer and/or mild winter we had last year weren't ideal growing conditions. It was also a very new bed with a mix of existing clay and then mushroom compost, not necessarily mixed well. However, I do quite like the look of the foliage on the plants; they are much bulkier than the overwintered leeks and garlic. They have given the vegetables beds some needed colour and structure in the winter and spring and would look good in a border.

I've sown some more this year, in the greenhouse, and will direct sow more later in the spring. I'm thinking of holding a few of the greenhouse plants back until late summer when I can pop them in the borders.

In terms of an edible ornamental plant, it's a winner.