Green chillies in the glasshouse at West Dean Gardens

Press Release: Experts Give Their Top 10 Tips On Growing Chillies

Before the hugely-popular Chilli Fiesta takes place at West Dean Gardens (nr Chichester, West Sussex) from Friday, August 9 to Sunday, August 11, 2019, West Dean's new Head Gardener Tom Brown and his colleague Laura Hughes share their top tips on growing chillies:

  • Sow your chillies the 1st week of February - it's best to start early.
  • Make sure that your seeds are no older than 2-3 years, you'll find some may not germinate as well as fresher seed.
  • Hungarian Hot Wax is a good all-rounder - a reliable, tall plant with big fruit that's good for roasting, stuffing and making into paste, they fruit for a long time.
  • If you want a good houseplant Basket of Fire is a good option, however if you want a plant that produces edible chillies in a variety of colours, Fairylights is a good option.
  • Chillies need warmth to grow and good light levels - roughly around 25 degrees.
  • To grow a strong plant, roots are crucial and the best way to create a good root system is by feeding the plant with diluted seaweed fertiliser; when the plant starts to establish, feed with a balanced feed and then use tomato feed once the flowers appear to encourage fruit. Don't let the plants get waterlogged, but also don't let them dry-out for long periods. Remember to look out for white fly.
  • With the big plants you might want to support them with a bamboo cane, or they may snap.
  • When chillies starts to appear, take off the first chilli otherwise known as the "King Chilli" as this will encourage more fruit and allow the plant to develop.
  • Keep picking and harvesting the chillies as this will encourage more fruit and be less likely to encourage diseases.
  • If you have a big crop of chillies, they do freeze well or you could make chilli jam.

Gardening talks and tours

Now in its 24th year, West Dean Chilli Fiesta offers a wide range of activities that will appeal to the gardener. Hear from a variety of experts with gardening talks and demonstrations in the Garden Theatre. Mark Diacono will be hosting the Garden Theatre this year and will be giving talks on his book 'Taste of the Unexpected'. Visitors can learn about unusual, delicious edibles that anyone can grow - everything from Szechuan pepper to Carolina allspice. Mark will also be running Garden Cocktail tasting sessions, where he'll share his expert knowledge on how to grow herbs and incorporate them into delicious cocktail recipes.

Wildlife writer for The Guardian and author of 'The Wildlife Gardener', Kate Bradbury, will be talking about her passion for organic wildlife-friendly gardening, and Lia Leendertz will also be appearing in the theatre over the weekend and discussing the month of August from her 2019 Almanac.

There will be talks from chilli-growing experts throughout the weekend, and opportunities to see displays of a huge variety of chilli plants in the Victorian Glasshouses on the daily tours with the West Dean gardeners. Browse the plant sale at the Gardens Shop for chilli plants to take home and grow (and eat!) for yourself.