Celebrity support for conservation of heritage veg  

Gardening gurus Monty Don and Sue Kent, and gastronomic chef and food grower Raymond Blanc OBE, have shown support for a project to save historic and rare vegetables from being lost.  

The unique Heritage Seed Library, which is run by sustainable gardening charity Garden Organic, was set up in response to the growing number of vegetable varieties, grown by generations of families and communities, being lost due to changing horticultural and agricultural practices and seed legislation. 

The Library is based at Garden Organic’s organic demonstration garden near Coventry, where a number of the vegetables are grown. It also relies on a whole host of volunteer Seed Guardians who grow and conserve these vegetable varieties in their own gardens and save and return the seeds to the Library. 

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Organic TV gardener Monty Don paid tribute to the work of the HSL on the BBC’s Gardeners’ World programme saying: “The work of the Heritage Seed Library over the years has been heroic and really important in conserving varieties and rare seeds that otherwise would have long disappeared. And growing them at home, nurturing them, enjoying them – that’s the way they have been kept alive. So, three cheers for their work”. 

Fellow TV presenter on BBC Two’s Gardener’s World, Sue Kent added: “I have been a member of the Heritage Seed Library for more than 30 years. I appreciate the history and diversity of heritage seed varieties. I like to grow heritage seeds to expand my knowledge and appreciation of vegetables and to make a practical contribution to the work of the Library and future food security.” 

The thriving Library was established more than 47-years-ago and grows and preserves around 800 heritage vegetable varieties.  

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The White Belgium carrot is a favourite on the Heritage Seed Library’s Seed List – which is released each December, and from which members can choose six free packets of seed. This carrot was originally introduced in the1800s for stock feed but was delicious enough for table use. It has a well-developed flavour that is mild and crisp, equal to any orange carrot. It produces pure white roots with green shoulders that show above the ground. It is high yielding and most importantly reports carrot fly resistance. It is excellent for those who cannot tolerate carotene.  

New to the list for this year are the Wroxton Brussels Sprout and the Brochette White Flowered pea, two of the 21 varieties from the Heritage Seed Library that are being grown in the Heritage Garden at Raymond Blanc’s country house hotel and restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. 

The White Belgium carrot is a favourite on the Heritage Seed Library’s Seed List

The Brochette White Flowered pea is an ex-commercial variety producing white flowers followed by slightly curved pods with five to six peas in each. It is a compact plant growing up to 1.1m tall. When translated from French, the word ‘Brochette’ means skewer. This is an apt description as at maturity the peas are often lightly stuck together in their pod with a gum-like substance secreted by the seed coat, hence they resemble a kebab, or a caterpillar. 

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The Wroxton Brussels sprout has a long and distinguished history. It was originally developed in 1895 by Lord North’s head gardener, at Wroxton Abbey, near Banbury in Oxfordshire. It was described by RA Taylor Seeds for Gardens and Allotments in 1921 as ‘robust growing’ and producing ‘very large solid sprouts’.  

“The Heritage Seed Library is inextricably weaved into The Raymond Blanc Gardening School”, says August Bernstein, head tutor of the School. “We passionately believe in educating our guests on the importance of seed saving and heritage varieties. 

“Our classroom is situated in the heart of the heritage garden at Le Manoir and here we showcase some of the historic varieties grown and saved within the Heritage Seed Library.”  

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August Bernstein Head Tutor of the Raymond Blanc Gardening School

Raymond Blanc OBE explains further: “At Le Manoir we must have varieties of fruit and vegetables that provide extraordinary colours, textures and flavours for our plate. This is what makes the Heritage Seed Library so wonderful. Their work ensures we have the broadest most exciting palette with which we can paint our gastronomy.  

Raymond Blanc OBE, photo credit Helen Cathcart

“The Heritage Seed Library is growing and saving heirloom and heritage varieties that have unique qualities, beautiful colours and complex flavours that might otherwise be lost. Now, they are protected so future generations may share them in their gardens and at their dinner tables.”   

The Head of Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library, Catrina Fenton, is delighted to have the support of all these celebrities behind the seed library.  

“Saving and growing threatened seeds is an accessible and impactful way that we can all take action to protect our precious cultivated biodiversity,” she says.  

“What’s more, the old varieties that we have saved may hold the key to combatting future growing and food supply challenges. We hear anecdotally, for example, that several of our heritage varieties hold characteristics such as drought and pest resistance, which are becoming more and more important as our climate changes.” 

Becoming a member of the seed library is a positive way for individuals to play a role in preventing these seeds from disappearing and protect our priceless ecosystem. Without its members, and donations, the Heritage Seed Library would not be able to continue its vital work. 

Each year from December until the end of February members of the Heritage Seed Library can choose up to six packets of seed free of charge to grow in their own gardens. To become a member visit: gardenorganic.org.uk/ join  or call Garden Organic on 024 7630 8210.

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Tony Flanagan
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