Bred in Britain

March 27th, 2015 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

The plants we grow today originate from all over the world. A few grow naturally in wild places – the Alps or the Himalayas, perhaps – but most have been developed in gardens, nurseries and by specialist plant breeders.

Geranium 'Divas Orange Ice'Developing new varieties of plants is an international business, and a very competitive one. In the United States, Japan and in many European countries in particular creative scientists are developing everything from new petunias to new Brussels sprouts.

A hundred and fifty years ago Britain was the world leader but times change and we now have relatively few plant breeding companies. But one of the world’s leading creators of new vegetable varieties is in Surrey, one of the world’s top petunia breeders is in Cambridgeshire – as is the world’s leading developer of new snowdrops! And in Norfolk is a company which, since the early 1980s, has developed a wide range of popular annual flowers and container plants. [You can’t buy seeds or plants from them, they sell through companies like Mr Fothergill’s.]

Geraniums have been a particular speciality of theirs with a succession of sparkling new colours and new flower patterns being developed over the years. I especially like the Divas Series and ‘Divas Orange Ice’ (above, click to enlarge), with the orange colouring on the backs of the petals seeping through to the white front of the petals, is gorgeous. Look out too for their tough and prolific classic scarlet geranium, ‘Moulin Rouge’.

Nicotianas, tobacco plants, have been another speciality and as well as using wild species that had never been used before to develop completely new types, they’ve created the ‘Perfume Mix’ which combines rich colours with the fragrance that so many colourful tobacco plants had lost.

And then there’s mimulus, monkey flower. Hardly anyone is developing new mimulus varieties but I like them for their lovely cheerful colours and flower patterns. ‘Magic Blotch Mixed’ (below, click to enlarge) is simply irresistible. And  they’re so amazingly quick to flower. Sow the seed in early April, for example, and plants should be in flower at the end of May. You can’t beat that.

So although Brits no longer rule the world of plant breeding, we still produce some superb varieties.

British bred Mimulus 'Magic Blotch Mixed'

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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