Some like it hot - but others may not. As far as spicy food goes, I’m certainly in the latter camp, but realise I am in something of a minority as modern tastes yearn for new, exotic and ever hotter culinary challenges.

The chilli pepper is at the heart of this switched-on food trend and is a truly remarkable plant available in a huge range of varieties. The attractive waxy skinned fruits come in all shapes and sizes, from squat and squashed, scotch bonnet types, to perfect balls, to impossibly elongated thin fingers. Colours too are equally varied, ranging from near black/purple through browns to lighter, brighter yellows, oranges and of course the signature reds.

Although I might prefer the delicate, more subdued flavour of the ‘sweet pepper,’ or its slightly spicy derivative paprika, I know it is the more fiery forms that attract most attention. Heat output here is measured in ‘Scoville Units.’ My mild mannered sweet bell peppers measure in at a reassuringly bland zero, but those hotter chilli peppers on the same scale score into the thousands. That’s fine for the foodies looking to spice up their dishes, but for real, hard-core chilli-heads there are even a few forms that top out, almost off the scale, at over a million!

I’d grow them out in the garden, just for the look of those shiny skinned decorative fruit. Sadly, however, these plants are originally from south and central america and we just can’t give them the warmth they need. In a greenhouse though, or even on a sunny windowsill they will thrive and will flower and fruit with ease. They need an early spring start to grow them from seed, but it is worth remembering most plants will go on from year to year getting bigger and more productive over time. Soil based compost suits them best, and although not exactly thriving on neglect, the opposite in the form of too much feed and water will only encourage lots of leaves.

It may be too late to start plants from scratch right now, but we will have plenty for sale in flower and fruit at the Lakes Chilli Fest here at Levens Hall this weekend. Whether your taste is for subtly steamy exotic cuisine or for full on, mouth blisteringly hot food, there is a chilli to help you get there.

Chris Crowder is head gardener at Levens Hall

Jobs to do this week:

Cut back the long whippy growth on wisterias now to encourage better flowering in spring.

In prolonged dry weather, give plenty of water to containers and newly planted plants first.

Keep picking sweet pea flowers. If you stop, they will set seed and no further flowers will be produced.