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Runner Beans stand out as slightly unusual in the bean family of vegetables. Not only do they wind up their supports in the opposite direction to other bean plants but, unlike French Beans, they also need bees to produce a crop of beans.

Tozer Seeds are at the forefront of breeding new Runner Bean varieties. Much of their current efforts involve the inclusion of French Bean genes in new Runner Bean varieties. One key reason for this is that Runner Beans can sometimes have difficulty in producing pods even though a good crop of flowers have been produced. French Beans do not suffer from this problem.


Most runner beans are self-pollinating but require bees or other insects to set their bean pods. For some reason warmer than normal night time temperatures result in a poor crop of beans although the production of flowers is not affected. This may be one reason why some gardeners spray their plants in the evening of warm nights - it will have a generally cooling effect.

For expert advice on preparing the ground and sowing runner bean seeds, click here. For ongoing care advice throughout the season, click here, and for advice on pests and diseases, click here.

In general runner beans produce beans which if planted the next year will be slightly different from the  parent plant. Major differences are unlikely but these small differences add up over 10 or more generations. Each seed company therefore will sell beans which produce slightly different plants. One seed company stands out head and shoulders as far as breeding runner beans is concerned is Tozer Seeds. They are specialists at developing new varieties and improving existing ones of this tasty vegetable.

VARIETIES OF CLIMBING RUNNER BEANS WE RECOMMEND



LADY DI


A personal favourite of ours which we have grown for many years. If you just can't stand even a small amount of "stringiness" to your runner beans then this is the one for you. Even if you let them reach past maturity they still remain stringless. In these circumstances the whole pod will eventually get a fibrous quality to it but definitely no string!

As with all runner beans, Lady Di is no exception, harvest it early and it is delicious, leave it too long on the plant and it will deteriorate. But with Lady Di, if you use it in casseroles or soups its stringless qualities make it tasty at any stage of its development.

This variety produces edible pods slightly earlier in the year than some others we have tried and the red flowers are very attractive. Awarded an RHS AGM in 2006.

ACHIEVEMENT-MERIT


An improved version of the old runner bean favourite Achievement. Awarded an AGM in 2006 this variety is stringless if picked when young. Attractive red flowers which produce a slightly later than normal crop of tasty beans. Good for exhibiting in the "longest runner bean" competitions.

 

Achievement Merit runner bean
Runner Bean Achievement Merit

Not one of the commonest varieties, Achievement Merit can be bought at Thompson Morgan here.

ENORMA-ELITE


A firm favourite of many gardeners for years. Produces a reliable crop of largish beans with red flowers. The beans are stringless and they set well in most weather conditions. This particular variety shows significant differences between the various seed merchants so bargain priced seeds may be the result of a poor breeding program and not produce the best that this variety is capable of.

FIRESTORM


The same as Snowstorm below but with orange-red flowers - see here.

POLESTAR RUNNER BEANS


A favourite variety for many years this is stringless and produces lots of red flowers. The pods are fleshy, straight and very tasty. A reliable cropper which produces beans a week or two earlier than average, expect to be harvesting 13 to 14 weeks after sowing. It continues to produce runner beans up till the first frosts.

This variety is easy to find in garden centres and from online seed merchants, it's also sometimes found at discount prices from the large supermarkets and discount store. Our preferred supplier is Victoriana Nursery where you will be given an automatic 10% discount at the checkout on everything if you click this link to them here.

RED RUM


Red Rum was awarded an AGM by the RHS in 2006 and this means that it has a lot going for it. Some silly claims have been made by one of the seed companies that it produces a crop within 40 days, take it from us, it does not. But it does produce larger crops earlier in the season compared to most other varieties because it sets bean pods very reliably from its attractive red flowers.

Runner Bean plants often fail to set pods from their flowers because the night time temperature is to high, they are rather picky plants in this respect. However Red Rum is well known to set pods more reliably than most.

Red Rum runner bean
Runner Bean Red Rum

The pods grow straight and are stringless although we still recommend harvesting your crop when the pods reach about 18cm / 7in long for the best taste. To sum up, Red Rum is a tasty stringless variety which is one of the most reliable croppers in the UK climate. Has some (but not huge) resistance to Halo Blight. As far as we know this variety has some genetic elements of French Beans incorporated into it.

SAINT GEORGE


A new variety from Tozer Seeds which is really an improved version of the variety Painted Lady. The flowers are red and white making it the most attractive of all the runner beans. It's a strong grower producing crisp, stringless pods. Awarded an RHS AGM in 2006 it's now one of our firm favourites.

SCARLET EMPEROR


One of the oldest varieties of runner beans which is still commonly sold. This variety produces decent beans however they are by no means stringless so need to be picked when young. More modern varieties have better disease resistance and grow better beans but if you want a slice of history then this bean will not disappoint.

SNOWDRIFT


Another variety which has been bred to include French Beans in its genetic makeup. Snowdrift was introduced in 2016 by Mr Fothergill's to enable this variety to self-pollinate without the intervention of bees.

Runner Bean Snowdrift
Snowdrift Runner Beans

The flowers, as the name suggests are white and the beans are straight, tasty and stringless. A relatively new variety well worth trying.

SNOWSTORM


Another variety from Tozer Seeds which has been bred using some of the genes from French bean varieties. The result is that Snowstorm sets beans much more easily compared to most other varieties and is not so dependent on the activity of bees and other insects. This is not only a valuable characteristic if the bee population in your area is low but it also helps in windy situations where insects are not able to adequately pollinate plants.

Victoriana Nursery Runner Bean seeds

The name Snowstorm was given because of the pure white flowers which are very attractive against the dark green foliage. The pods are ideal when picked at about 30cm, making tasty and straight runner beans.

Snowstorm runner beans - picture by Tozers

 

WHITE LADY


A classic runner bean variety which is grown in many parts of the world purely for its display of white flowers. The beans themselves are produced mid-season and are one of the tastiest of all. Pick them young and they are completely stringless with a juicy non-fibrous texture. A reliable cropper and awarded an RHS AGM.

WISLEY MAGIC RUNNER BEANS


Some of the seed merchants appear to be selling this variety as a new one in 2014 / 15 but in fact it was available from as far back as 1999 when the RHS awarded it an Award of Garden Merit (reconfirmed in 2013). This is a strong growing variety which is well mentioned frequently in gardening forums, always a good sign. You can expect to be harvesting Wisley Magic during late July to late October in most parts of the UK.

The prolific and attractive, deep red flowers appear in early July and produce runner bean pods which are full-flavoured. Pick them before they get too long and they are stringless. The pods are mid-green, straight-growing and of regular shape. The plants grow well in almost all conditions and freeze perfectly. They produce a large crop even in over-warm conditions.

VARIETIES OF DWARF RUNNER BEANS WE RECOMMEND



HESTIA


A new variety of dwarf runner bean which is proving a great success. The red and white flowers alone are enough reason to give this plant space in your garden. At the same time however it will produce a good crop of stringless and tasty runner beans. This is not a "novelty" variety, it really does the job.

This makes an ideal container plant, it just needs to be watered regularly in summer. When it grows several stems often appear and that's quite normal. We have found that a few canes about a foot long greatly help to support this variety even though it is a dwarf runner bean. If birds have been a problem in previous years with your runner beans then Hestia can easily be netted to keep them off.

PICKWICK


A traditional dwarf runner bean variety which stood the test of time and proved its worth. Masses of orange flowers appear in late spring followed by an excellent crop of stringless beans.

 

Pickwick dwarf runner beans
Pickwick Dwarf Runner Bean

The plants grow to a full height of about 60cm / 2ft and spread 1m / 3ft. Although dwarf they are not -self-supporting but three 60cm canes per plant will be enough to support them . Can easily be grown in containers.

NEXT PAGE - PESTS AND DISEASES OF RUNNER BEANS

COMMENTS / QUESTIONS LEFT BY OUR READERS

Sometimes our readers ask specific questions which are not covered in the main article above. Our
Runner Bean comment / question and answer page
lists their comments, questions and answers. At the end of that page there is also a form for you to submit any new question or comment you have.