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Italian Seeds – simply the best

November 21, 2012 Maureen Chapman 8 Comments


Hello, my name is Maureen Chapman and I’m an agent and grower for Franchi – Seeds of Italy and I’m based in Yorkshire in the NE of England.

Hands up all those who who have already dismissed the idea of growing Italian veg using Italian seed because “they won’t grow in this country – will they?”

Great news! They will!

People tend to forget that Italy is more Alpine than Mediterranean and seeds produced by Franchi, based in Bergamo in the North of Italy with their trial grounds in the alps, are much hardier and well suited to our British climate.

I first came across Franchi seeds, distributed in this country by Seeds of Italy, when a regular customer came into my shop in North Yorkshire and thrust a small brown envelope containing a teaspoonful of seeds into my hand. The envelope was labelled “Thyme of Provence”.

They languished in my greenhouse for a while until I finally got round to sowing them. The germination rate was excellent despite being stored in less than perfect conditions and the thyme was beautiful – much more fragrant and evocative than any I’d previously grown.

The following year I bought more varieties and was so impressed I decided to stock them in the shop.

7 generations - Paulo Arrigo

7 generations – Paulo Arrigo


Paolo Arrigo (the MD of Seeds of Italy) says he doesn’t have customers – only fans!

I was completely hooked – an enthusiastic fan.

That was about 10 years ago. Since then I’ve closed the shop, grown a lot more veg, somehow become the part time agent for Seeds of Italy in the North of England and grew the plants for the SoI medal winning garden at RHS Hampton Court this year.


You might be wondering just what is so special about Franchi – how can a humble pack of seeds generate such passion and loyalty.

The facts explain it well enough but it’s more than that, maybe a feeling of belonging, maybe a little of that Italian childlike enthusiasm comes free with every pack. I don’t know. But I do know I’m not alone. 

On finding us at shows existing customers genuinely squeal with delight at finding the seeds actually there in front of them; they babble excitedly at anyone who will listen about their unsurpassed benefits. It is truly bizarre.

The seeds of Italy medal winning garden at RHS Hampton Court

The seeds of Italy medal winning garden at RHS Hampton Court


Well, what about those facts?

Franchi are seed producers (most seed companies are not) and they are the oldest family run seed company in the world – on the go since 1783 with a Mr Franchi still at the helm. That takes some doing these days and shows they must be doing something right.

Being seed producers they can afford to put more seed in the packs and they can guarantee their quality. (DON’T sow more than you need – they WILL germinate!)

The Franchi Regional vegetable map

The Franchi Regional vegetable map




The varieties taste good; Italy is a food based culture and each regional variety is revered and used differently eg Courgette Tondo di Piacenza – a round courgette, from Piacenza near Parma, hollowed out, stuffed with local Parma ham and Parmesan cheese and baked. Real local and regional food.




The guys at PushingUpDandelions asked me to recommend 6 varieties…..


Well, I struggled with this as there are truly so many great tasting varieties available; so I’ve looked at some which cope really well with the cold and some I just wouldn’t be without.


Think of Italy – think of tomatoes. I usually grow about 10 different varieties of Franchi toms, one of which featured on GW Sept 2012. Tomato Red Pear Franchi is meaty and sweet with hardly any pockets of water or seeds. A really Italian tomato for the greenhouse, shaped like a slightly scalloped fat pear. Fruits weigh about 220g and are great for stuffing. About 60 seeds for £2.49.


 Alpine Lettuce Meraviglia d’Inverno S.Martino (yes, it is a very long name!) can be sown in a cold greenhouse or under a cloche from July until December and harvested through the winter until around March. It’s a compact variety with a tender open head and ruffled green leaves. 200 seeds £2.49


One of my favourite winter salad plants is Radicchio Rossa di Treviso – a tasty and beautiful addition to the winter veg plot – it would look good in the flower border too. The colder it is the redder and sweeter the radicchio becomes and it can be eaten raw or cooked. Paolo’s mum, Teresa, makes an awesome Radicchio Risotto. 6000 seeds £1.99


My teenage son doesn’t particularly “do green” as far as food is concerned but he loves Cavolo Nero Kale. One of my very favourite winter veg too, either simply steamed or pan fried with shallots/garlic/bacon or in the national dish of Florence – Ribollita Toscana.  Cavolo Nero is easy to grow and mine crops until at least March, the new shoots erupting from the plant like a fountain. You just need to keep the pesky caterpillars off! 1500 seeds £1.99


I never used to have any luck with spring sown Florence Fennel, it always ran to seed before it had bulbed up properly. Then, tah dah! I discovered Alpine Fennel Montebianco. Sown June to August the bulbs develop as the weather gets colder and I harvest into November/December. On occasion, when I’ve been a bit late sowing, the plants have stayed in all through winter and sometimes multiple bulbs have developed from one plant in the spring! 1260 seeds £1.99


Must mention Beans…..but which one? Paolo said “Tell them about  Meraviglia di Venezia” , so I will (although it’s tempting to mention all the different Borlotti beans they sell).  Wide, flat and yellow these Venetian beans are meaty but tender, stringless and buttery making the best bean salad, boiled then dressed with vinaigrette while still warm. They’re a good cropper too. 50g £1.99

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Choosing just 6 was nigh on impossible – there’s so many more I want to tell you about from the humble to the exotic – whispers “ lettuce leaf basil, giant parsley, the everlasting tomato, stripy beetroot, bulls horn peppers, ugly venetian courgettes, serpent squashes, agretti, edible flowers, tomatillo, stevia……….just ask, please just ask!!!”     Franchi – Seeds of Italy

Currently there are "8 comments" on this Article:

  1. Wow, didn’t think you could grow Italian seeds here, great news that I can. I will be trying Franchi seeds for sure. Those tomatoes looks gorgeous! A taste of Italy without the cost of a flight ticket :)

    • Thanks Stuart! That’s just the reaction i was hoping for! Do make sure you choose Franchi though – there are some “Italian” seeds out there which not the same at all. If you need any help with anything just ask.M

  2. Polly Heartshorne says:

    The seeds sound amazing my mouth was almost watering! I will definitely be trying some.

  3. Kay Wood says:

    Fantastic passionate, informative article Maureen. Must try the fennel it sounds perfect.

    If you are part of the school campaign to encourage children to garden then I thoroughly recommend these seeds. Each packet contains more than enough seeds for every child in a class to have a go at sowing and growing their own plants. Excess plants can always be sold to help raise funds for your growing in schools project!

    • Thanks Kay!
      Seeds of Italy really encourage veg growing in UK schools – most schools in Italy have a veg patch. Any schools wanting seed for their project can send just £2 (to cover postage) and they will receive 6 assorted packets. These are packs which have been returned by outlets as they are a bit dog eared or faded but the contents will be fine. Plenty of seed in each to cope with small fingers and odd spillages too!

  4. margarita pareja says:

    I live in the North of Spain in asturias and here it rains 300 days a year not the sun shines every day, thank God. Both Italy and Spain have regions similar to England or Switzerland, my support for these seeds, greetings to all

  5. markwillis says:

    I was converted to Franch seeds several years ago. I love them. Best feature for me is the generous quantities in the pack. None of this “includes 8 seeds” – more like “includes 800 seeds”!

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