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Catalogues and textbooks sing the praises of french beas as a garden crop, but in Britain it is the runner bean which reigns supreme. For the British the french bean is a stand-in crop until the ling pods of the scarlet runners are ready, but in Europe it is the haricot vert which is queen throughout the summer. France is only its adopted home, however- the plant is a native of S America.

The bean is a half hardy annual which cannot stant frost. It loves warm conditions and hates heavy clay, and it is decorative enough to be grown in the flower garden. The main varieties are bushy plants with 4-6 in. green pods following the white, pinkk or red flowers. There are also other types- you can buy purple- and yellow-podded types as well as climbing varieties which may grow as tall as runner beans. Recently there have been many introductions and also new ideas about spacing- today the recommendation is to plant the seeds much more closely than the older textbooks advise.

French beans are at their best when young pods are picked and cooked whole within an hour of harvesting. Often you will find that the pods are well past this stage, and flat-podded beans are stringy once they have matured. The best option is to shell them and treat them like flageolets- fresh green beans cooked like peas. You could even wait for a later stage, leaving the pods to mature on the plant and then shelling and drying indoors to produce haricots for later use.

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