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The Times Newspaper Article

The Times published an article about Chris and his tobacco seeds. Read the article here

The Times is an internationally renowned daily newspaper in the UK. On Saturday 5th February 2000, The Times carried a 1/4 page feature about Chris Gurney and his tobacco seeds. The full article is reproduced below.

'PUT THAT IN YOUR PIPE' says Stephen Anderson

Every large family finds itself having to apologise occasionally for certain of its more embarrassing members. The potato family (Solanaceae) must fare worse than most. For despite such worthies as tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and even petunias, there is a bunch of dangerous cousins, including deadly nightshade, angel's trumpets and - the notorious black sheep of the family - tobacco.

The picture of Chris inspecting his tobacco leaves as published in The TimesI am not talking about the little border annual nicotianas, bred to be ever more short and stumpy and less fragrant, nor the taller, perfumed Nicotiana sylvestris, but the big bruiser itself, Nicotiana tabacum; the one which can look you in the eye or even look down at you.

If Chris Gurney of the Plantation House has his way, a lot more people will be looking up in admiration at the evil weed. He is selling seed of Havana for cigars, pipes and snuff and Virginia tobacco for cigarettes to smoker-gardeners, via his website. Gurney is a master upholsterer who just happens to love growing and curing tobacco and is keen for others to produce their own. My smoking is limited to the occasional bonfire, but I do love the smell of tobacco in the fresh air, leaning across the allotment fence, as it were, so I wish Gurney luck.

Tobacco, after all, is a striking plant, man-high, with big banana-like leaves like a soft-leaved canna, and rosy, pinkish-purple tubular flowers at the top. It is the kind of plant you might grow with dahlias and cannas for a late season semi-tropical display, as a green foil for more colourful plants.

The 5ft Nicotiana sylvestris is already used in that way. It has leaves almost as big as tobacco if grown luxuriantly. The flower trumpets are long, pure white and deliciously scented, especially at night, as is the shrub Cestrum parqui, also in the same family. While it is perfectly legal and tax free to grow (but not sell) tobacco at home or on an allotment, it is not legal to grow cannabis, despite its attractive, fingery foliage.

Like all nicotianas, tobacco seed should be sown on the surface of the compost. In the case of tobacco it needs all the summer sun it can get in our climate and so seed should be sown at 70-80F (22-27C) no later than March, to produce strong plants ready to put out in late May after the frosts are gone and the weather is reliably warm. Generous watering is required in dry seasons.

Naturally, all that paddle foliage takes some supporting and it is important to dig the ground deeply before planting, so the plants get enough grip on the soil and do not lurch over mid season. That is no joke when it is a dozen fine Havanas biting the dust.

Gurney is keen to show smoker-gardeners how much money they can save by growing their own tobacco. He reckons his packets of 500 certified virus-free seeds will produce 120lb of tobacco if you have space to grow it all. He even suggests that home-grown tobacco may be healthier and more acceptable to "organic" smoker-gardeners (if that is not a contradiction in terms), when so many additives are used in commercial tobacco.

I wonder then how gardeners will cope with powdery mildew, such a problem on ornamental nicotianas in southern Britain now? Will they apply fungicide, and reckon that beside inhaling all that nicotine, well, what the heck . . ?

Chris says "Its a good job the mildew is only found on the ornamental variety - he has never seen it on the smoking type."

More to the point, I wonder how smoker-gardeners will cope with the business of drying, curing, and storing those big, floppy leaves.

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