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The Heritage Seed Library

Become a Variety Champion

In today’s global environment, the Heritage Seed Library is more important than ever, and we need to continue to find and share an increasing number of varieties, as well as protect the ones we have already secured in this unique, living collection.

Over the last century 90% of UK veg varieties have died out - simply by no longer being grown. It is imperative to promote the widest possible genetic diversity in vegetables. However, our conservation efforts are increasingly challenged by rapidly changing weather conditions.

We urgently need to research the varieties we hold and understand their ability to withstand dramatic disruption to their growing conditions. We must also search for more ‘at risk’ varieties.

Can you help by becoming a Variety Champion?

Would you consider coming alongside us with a regular gift to develop the Heritage Seed Library? For a minimum monthly donation of £25, Champions can protect their chosen variety and help our wider work to bring ‘at risk’ veg back into the hands of growers. In return you will receive:

  • A packet of precious seed of your chosen variety
  • An annual update on the work of the Heritage Seed Library
  • Recognition as one of our Variety Champions on our website and in our annual seed list

The following varieties are in need of Champions:

Achocha – Fat Baby

This variety of has been known in the Caribbean since the 1930s. It is one of an increasing number of global crops selected and saved to grow well in the UK, increasing the biodiversity needed to meet a changing climate. The Millenium Seed Bank is the only UK institute other than the HSL that holds a (single) seed sample for Achocha.

Climbing French Bean - Hidatsa Shield Figure

Named after the Hidatsa Native American tribe of North Dakota, as the seed coat's pattern is said to resemble a warrior bearing a golden shield. Although one of the most productive dry beans, it was removed from UK commercial availability in 2016, when HSL reintroduced it into the national collection.

Dwarf French Bean – Soldier

Also known as Nun's Bellybutton, this pre-1800 variety is so named as it has markings around the hilum resemble a soldier standing to attention. It is truly multipurpose, as although originally developed for drying, it produces a generous crop of flat-podded beans and freezes well. Also reported to be both drought resilient and cold hardy.

Onion - Up-To-Date

This onion was originally introduced in the 19th century and remained commercially available until sometime around the 1980’s. A good storage onion with reported resistance to white rot. Barrs Seed catalogue (1927) describes it as “in every way a model onion.”

Pea - Mayor of Leicester

Listed in Harrisons of Leicester Garden Seeds and Sundries catalogue of 1919, who state “Height up to 3 feet. Highly Commended, Royal Horticultural Society 1909”. Thought to have disappeared completely until a sample was obtained for the HSL, one hundred years later.

Pea - Harold Idle

This variety has been grown by our donor since the 1940s. It was passed to them by Mr Harold Idle, a grower on Desborough Allotments, Northants. A very tall pea, it is believed to have gone out of fashion with the introduction of specialised varieties for mechanical harvesting.

Pea - Jackson Grey Back

The donor of this variety was the former Head Gardener at Normanby Hall Walled Garden, Lincolnshire. It was passed to him by two visitors, and it is thought to be local to East Yorkshire, where it had been grown since at least the 1920s, possibly much longer. Believed to have been a locally developed heirloom variety, the donor was relieved its survival was being secured in the library.

Pea - Big Ben

Thought to date to before 1855, this variety was available as far afield as New Zealand and the USA by 1860 and was still available in the UK by the 1970’s. It disappeared from commercial sale and was thought to be lost until the HSL received seed in 2009. Described as a good, hardy, dwarf pea it is thought also to show resistance to fusarium wilt.

Pea - Mr Bound's Bean Pea

An example of a unique heirloom that may never have otherwise been discovered without searches by the HSL. An unusual variety that produces very large seeds. Investigation by the national pea gene bank, the John Innes Centre, found no similar variety held by them. Our donor, Mr Bound, was given this tall pea in the 1960s, but had been grown in Wiltshire since the 1950s.

Pea - Sharpes Liberty

No, not a Bernard Cornwell novel, but a rare variety of tall pea from Sharpe & Co, Seed Merchants, based in Sleaford, Lincolnshire from 1913 to 1983. By the time the HSL had acquired the seed 25 years later it existed only as a gene bank sample in the US.

Pea - Simpson's Special

Donated by Rural Life Museum, Dereham, Norfolk, where seed had been carefully saved year after year before passing seed to the collection in response to a national seed search by the HSL. They were given the seeds by the late Mr Simpson, who worked on the Petworth Estate, West Sussex, where this variety had been grown since at least the 1940s.

Pea - Twelve Acre

Newly rediscovered less than a decade ago, our donor's family have grown this variety for at least three generations, since before 1890, and it has always been associated with Twelve Acre Farm, Oxfordshire. Our donor’s late mother ‘treasured’ this family heirloom - it was the highlight of her kitchen garden for its long harvest and outstanding taste.

Seeds in the Heritage Seed Library

Become a Variety Champion

Our heritage varieties are a vital part of our genetic past and, with your help, we can ensure they will be available for future generations. If you would be willing to consider becoming a Variety Champion, we would be delighted to hear from you – please call 024 7630 8210 or