Heritage Seed Library - here’s what we've been up to...

The current unprecedented circumstances meant that the Heritage Seed Library team had to depart our head office at Ryton at their busiest time for sowing and planting. However the team are still busy bees and have been following up their trials from 2019 and the whole team are currently growing new varieties, as well as completing characterisation, trials and germination testing seed for seed swaps.

Here’s what we've been up to so far. They’ll be more updates to come!

2019 trials
The 2019 trials to uncover heritage varieties that would be suitable for inclusion in the HSL collection proved to be particularly fruitful. Of the varieties put through our stringent trials, five have been formally accepted and, once we have enough seeds, will be available for our members select from future HSL seed lists.

Broad bean St Gorran was one of the varieties we were particularly hopeful about, as it has a great story and significant to a specific local area, the villages of Kestle and Gorran, near Falmouth in Cornwall. As broad beans cross-pollinate very freely, thanks to the work of our wonderful bee population, we often find that broad beans sent to us are no longer pure and a mix of several types. Thankfully with St Gorran, this wasn’t the case, and we have a new lovely broad bean to add to the collection.

Two peas, Kola Kapucijner and May Queen, have also made the grade. Kola Kapucijner was donated by one of our Seed Guardians who lives in The Netherlands. Originally introduced in 1934 by brothers Dirk and Reinder Kool from Andijk; the name ‘Kola’ comes from amalgamating their surname and their home town. Kapucijner originates with the grey colour of Capuchin monks robes, which it is meant to resemble. A tall, vigorous, white-flowered variety, resembling a mangetout, but pods fill eventually containing 8-10 greyish-green peas with square corners!

May Queen is a 19th century variety mentioned in An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Gardening by Walter P Wright (1911). With such historical provenance we were really keen for it to do well, and it did! We checked our records against those stated by Mr Wright and found that ours matched perfectly; 4-5 feet (1.2-1.5m) plants with pretty white, green-veined flowers and short, fleshy pods containing 6-7 peas in each.

Both peas have been include in this year’s Seed Guardian orphan list with the hope that they will yield enough seeds for us to be able to offer them in the HSL Catalogue before very long.

Our last two are tomato Dreadnought; an exhibition variety suited to glasshouse cultivation that produces a multitude of round, red fruits, and onion Portuguesa Amarilla Tardia, which produced fantastic first-year bulbs, so we are hoping for a fine crop of seeds in year two.

New varieties to the Heritage Seed Library collection
Potential new varieties to the HSL collection all require full a full characterisation and trial prior to being formally accepted. We wanted to share some of the varieties that the HSL team are growing in their own gardens at home.

Devonia tomato is just one of many new varieties that we will be sharing with you in the weeks to come. Rachel, our HSL Information Officer has been busy growing this new tomato variety at home and she will also be completing a full characterisation and trial. Earlier in April there were nine really strong young plants, just showing their first set of true leaves and now they have been potted on in preparation for the great outdoors!

Our donor's grandfather, Mr Peter Bryant Westcott, was a horticulturist in Braunton, Devon in the 1890s. He grew this variety and the family have handed it down through the generations. Only a couple of family members now carry on the tradition so HSL has been passed some seeds for safekeeping. It is a classic round, red tomato with excellent flavour. Certainly, one to watch out for!

Morlin-Webber Century runner bean was donated to us by Mr Webber and is currently being grown at home by Catrina, Head of our Heritage Seed Library. This variety was developed by his great uncle, Charles Morlin in around 1910 and handed down through the family. Around fifteen years ago Mr Webber's dad passed the responsibility on to him and he has been growing them ever since. It is a scarlet flowered variety, both a prolific and reliable cropper, producing pods up to 35cm in length. The HSL team will be photographing, measuring, and recording its progress as one of their trial varieties this year.

The beans are keen to start climbing their bean poles, but my planned bed is in front of a nest of robins - I will just have to hang on for a bit longer until the chicks fledge!

Walter’s Show Pea is also being cared for by Catrina. This heirloom variety was first acquired in 2010 and, although we did an initial grow-out in 2015, this year we have decided to conduct a complete characterisation assessment. For some varieties, especially heirlooms, this may be the first time the variety has been fully measured, photographed and compared with others in the collection. It helps us to provide a description for seed guardians to help us grow it in the future as well as providing us with information and photos we can share with our members.

It is looking very promising so far – with big, bold foliage that is climbing way ahead of the other peas at the moment. Catrina is beginning to see why Walter may have grown this variety for shows!