The small family firm of Thomas Etty, in Horton,
The catalogue lists flowers and bulbs, but my main interest at the moment is the vegetables. The seed bank in this country has narrowed over the last few decades, firstly because large producers wanted a uniform product that all ripened at the same time, and secondly because the EU insisted that seed varieties should be tested and approved for our safety. Testing costs money and without it seeds cannot be listed. In the last 100 years, 90% of UK vegetable varieties have been lost from our soils and, as we know, large corporations now control a quarter of the world’s seed markets, raising issues of genetic modification and disease resistant F1 hybrids that do not breed true.
Many of the old varieties do have built in disease resistance but are a funny shape, and they ripen unevenly. But as a gardener, I’m concerned with flavour and the last thing I want is all my tomatoes to ripen on the same day! And I don’t mind if they are not a uniform size because I don’t have packaging issues. What I want is a wonderful taste, and perhaps some old fashioned beauty. It never really occurred to me before, but for a long time green was not necessarily the only colour for a French bean – it could be yellow, or purple, or maroon splashed with cream.
Ray and Jane Warner, and their son Dan, have their business in a small village near Ilminster,
I love the names of some of these old varieties – how did a lettuce called Fat Lazy Blonde get its name I wonder? Or the one called Drunken Woman? And what will my beans look like if they are called Coco Rouge de Prague? Can’t wait to find out!
The other source of heritage seeds is what used to be called the Henry Doubleday Research Association and has now become Garden Organic. Gardeners pay to become members of the seed library, and each year they are given a selection of six of the hundreds of varieties to grow.