the Story of the Tomato at Chelsea

The ever-popular tomato certainly deserves respect! Its history has been littered with adventure, travel and even wartime propaganda! Burpee Europe and Pennard Plants will be joining forces this September to celebrate the ‘love apple’ with a display at the Chelsea Flower Show. Based around the forthcoming book ‘Ten Tomatoes That Changed The World’ by William Alexander, it will explain why and how the Solanum lycopersicum became the most popular vegetable in world, having entered our diets in every guise from sandwiches and salads to spaghetti, pizza, and ketchup.

The varieties on show will include tomatoes such as ‘Nagina’, ‘Merrygold’, ‘Cherry Baby’ and ‘Burpees LongKeeper’, to name but a few, plus the all-important ‘Big Boy’ (main picture), which really was the catalyst for the project.


Simon Crawford of Burpee Europe says “I first became aware of Bill Alexander’s new book when he approached me for information on Burpee’s ‘Big Boy’ one of the ‘TEN’. I was able to pass on some notes from the breeder of ‘Big Boy’, Ovid Shifriss, and also some testimonials from Burpee customers who first tried the variety in 1949/1950. I also provided a few suggestions for the section Bill was writing on hybridisation in tomato.

“I was immediately enthralled by the title and, after a few days of turning the idea over in my mind, I called Chris Smith at Pennard to suggest a Chelsea display based around the idea of ‘Ten Tomatoes that Changed the World’. Chris immediately said yes and we started to make a plan and sowing schedule. The change of dates for Chelsea from May to September make a tomato exhibit a much more achievable goal, as the crop will be easier to manage in July and August compared with March and April (for the usual Chelsea dates).”

Simon continues, “Bill is a very inspirational individual who has been able to capture the ‘romance’ of the tomato (love apple) and the way the fruit has been developed in a practical way over the last 500 years. The story also illustrates what plant breeding has achieved in a very practical way through the development of what is now one of the world’s most important horticultural crops.”

Chris Smith of Pennard Plants says “We are delighted to be back! Although for us it will be the last time! Chelsea 2021 is at a great time for us to show vegetables in their prime and Burpee Europe have a fantastic range. Tomatoes will take centre stage with the theme ‘The Ten Tomatoes Which Changed the World’ but peppers and chillies will complement these.”

The Burpee and Pennard teams will also be showing other vegetables, including Aubergine ‘White Knight’, Aubergine ‘Purple Knight’, Okra ‘Bhut Bhindi’, Melon ‘Lottie’, cooking cucumber ‘Prolific’ and brand new varieties such as Chilli Pepper ‘Sparky’ and Cucumber ‘Party Time’.

Visitors will be able to see the display between 21 – 26 September 2021 at the Chelsea Flower Show on stand number GPB150.

Burpee Europe website:
Pennard Plants website:
William Alexander books:

Tony Flanagan
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