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What is the secret of ‘Veteran Gardener’ John Brown’s onion growing success?

PUBLISHED: 16:14 12 September 2017

John Brown with his prize winning onions.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

John Brown with his prize winning onions. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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A champion Suffolk grower has celebrated his proudest moment in decades of competitive horticulture after completing a set of 10 winning medals.

John is also proud of his Sir Alf Ramsey dahlias.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNJohn is also proud of his Sir Alf Ramsey dahlias. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Framlingham man John Brown picked up first prizes in an impressive 25 categories at the Wickham Market and District Gardening Club’s Annual Autumn Show, including Best in Show for his gladiolus.

But it was the National Vegetable Society Silver Medal he won for his onion collection that filled him with greatest pride.

“Last year I got my ninth silver medal and I was wondering when I might get my 10th,” he said.

“I just turned 80 so it was great to get it this year – it’s been my proudest moment.”

The collection included kelsae and red baron varieties.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNThe collection included kelsae and red baron varieties. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

John, who is known among fellow growers as the “veteran gardener”, has taken the coveted medal every year since 2008.

His meticulous preparations begin in December when he sows his onion seeds before replanting at increasing depths.

The finest specimens make it to John’s polytunnel – referred to by family as his “Wendy house” – where they are grown in carefully controlled conditions under black and white plastic sheets.

He has meters to monitor moisture and even undertakes chemical analysis of the soil to ensure it contains the right composition.

John's gladioli won best in show.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNJohn's gladioli won best in show. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

“There’s a lot of time and effort in growing onions,” said John.

“It’s quite a skilled job - they are the most difficult vegetable to grow if you want to show them.

“They can split, they can get mildew – there’s a lot that can go wrong with onions.”

His winning display comprised large kelsae onions, red barons, as well as several smaller varieties including six “picklers”.

John's onions won him his 10th silver medal at the Wickham Market & District Gardening Club's Annual Show.   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNJohn's onions won him his 10th silver medal at the Wickham Market & District Gardening Club's Annual Show. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

But it is not all about onions. John also grows leeks, chrysanthemum and is particularly proud of his Sir Alf Ramsey dahlias – named after the England and Ipswich town football player and manager.

“Whatever I grow, I grow to win,” said John. “I don’t expect to win every time - anyone can be beaten – but I always try to win with what I put in.”

John’s competitive streak runs in the family.

His father William was also a successful gardener who exhibited regularly at the Orford Flower Show.

Older brother Charles also won several titles, including Suffolk Onion Champion and Radio Orwell’s heaviest onion.

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