Visit any Scottish allotment and you’ll find tatties in at least half of the plots. Plot holders know they’re the world’s tastiest and most nutritious carbohydrate, as did early farmers in South America.

Potatoes grew wild along the Peruvian coast 13,000 years ago and we know that 7,000 years later, Andean farmers were starting to use some of the 206 known potato species. They even broke one of our cardinal rules of tattie growing: protect these frost tender plants against lethal frost. Astonishingly, they grew their ‘papas’ as high as 5000 metres in the Andean mountains. There they deliberately exposed their harvested tatties to the night frosts for a week and, so were naturally left with a soggy mess.

The people then squeezed the liquid out, leaving what was effectively dried starch. This ‘chuño’ was stored away, for as much as ten years, and brought out when food was otherwise in short supply. And by the way, I don’t recommend you try to copy this ancient freeze-dry method.

Despite such a wide range of potato species in the Americas, only one of the seven species cultivated there, Solanum tuberosum, made it across the Atlantic in the 16th Century, probably between 1531 and 1537. Drake or Raleigh may have introduced the tattie to England but it’s much less clear when it reached this country.

The Herald: Potato varieties and their originsPotato varieties and their origins (Image: Newsquest)

Shetlanders may have the answer. Some of them still firmly believe the legend that their ‘Shetland Black’ was pillaged from a wrecked Spanish Armada ship in 1588. So why not look out for ‘Shetland Black’ potatoes and grow them, buying into the belief that you’re eating Scotland’s first tattie.

Whatever the truth of this legend, thousands of varieties have since been developed from this one species, S. tuberosum, and much of this work was done in Scotland from the late 19th Century onwards. Archibald Findlay, 1841-1921, was undoubtedly one of the most important pioneer breeders. So why not look out for some of his cultivars, such as Majestic, Up to Date, or British Queen.

These are only three of the many dozens of varieties available for gardeners here. Though down on previous years, thanks to the continuing fall-out of Brexit and last year’s calamitas harvest, we do still have no shortage of choice. The Borders Organic Gardeners potato day in Kelso next Sunday, 3 March, can still muster 80 varieties, with potatoes sold by the individual tuber.

So don’t just go for the one or two varieties you’ve grown before or recognise from the supermarket. Try one or two new ones. When I first grew the delicious, waxy 1st Early Ulster Prince and 2nd Early Jazzy, I then made a point of finding space for them afterwards. It’s always fun experimenting, but only grow a few tubers of an experiment. You wouldn’t want to end up wasting precious space on something like the tasteless Caledonian Pearl.

Plant of the week

Helleborus orientalis ‘Sugar Plum’ is a very pretty hellebore flowering in early spring. The single flowers are held on strong stems, up to five to a stem, and face outwards rather than drooping down and being hard to see.

The Herald: Helleborus orientalis ‘Sugar Plum’ Helleborus orientalis ‘Sugar Plum’ (Image: Newsquest)

The petals are pale pink with darker veins and the backs of the petals are also flushed red wine colour. The centre of each flower is dark crimson showing off the boss of yellow stamens.

Fully hardy, hellebores prefer semi shade and moist but well drained soil.