14 May 2013
Tomato 'Plumpton King' was bred at Plumpton College in the 1940s but it fell out of cultivation in the UK due to the use of modern F1 hybrids.
Victor Briceno (pictured) from Plumpton College tracked down Plumpton Kings that were still being grown in the US and obtained a small number of seeds to trial. Then, Garden Organic, UK found the last old packet of 12 British seeds in the back of a dusty drawer and sent them to us. Only 3 germinated but they are the parents of hundreds!
Plumpton College was involved in breeding tomato varieties in the 1940's, as result of this 'Plumpton King' was developed. In the 1940s breeders wanted heavy cropping, quality fruit that appealed to both commercial and amateur growers. The variety 'Market King' was improved to produce 'Plumpton King' which had better crops. It is a vigorous cordon variety for indoors or outdoors. The fruit is smooth, round, dark red, medium sized with a strong tomato taste and is excellent for salads, cooking, or canning. It was first mentioned in “Soft Fruit Growing for The Amateur' published by Penguin in 1942 .However, it was lost from cultivation over the years probably due to the introduction of F1 varieties. With over 20,000 tomato varieties and counting, tomato guru Terry Marshall still manages to highlight the quality of 'Plumpton King' in his book 'Tomatoes' .
In the 1980s Henry Doubleday (now Garden Organic) donated some seeds to a North-American seed company called GHorganics who have been producing 'Plumpton King' since then in the USA. A small number of seeds were given to us to start our project. Garden Organic, UK then found the last old packet of 12 British seeds in the back of a dusty drawer and sent them to us-only 3 germinated but they are the parents of hundreds!
'Plumpton King' tomato has for many years been mentioned by some ex-Plumptonians and former staff members, either interested or curious about its origin and whereabouts. Also there is a small paragraph written by George Arnold in the message board of The Old Plumptonians Website, saying that during that period tomatoes in the salads had all the seeds removed for propagating.
Bringing 'Plumpton King' back into cultivation would be a very important achievement, not only because of its history linked to the college but for reintroducing heirloom varieties that have been lost and that had brought diversity into our gardens and source of fresh food for our tables.
At the present, there is a growing need for genetic diversity in our gardens, growing varieties such heirloom tomatoes can help preserve and maintain diversity. There is an increasing interest in open pollinated varieties instead of modern F1 types.
Horticulture students are currently propagating and trialling 'Plumpton King' inside and out at the Stanmer Park annex of Plumpton College.The results so far are excellent and we see a good future for 'Plumpton King'.
Since the original 400-acre College farm was bought back in 1919, Plumpton College has certainly seen a lot of changes.