Tomato ‘comes home’ to Plumpton after 70 year abscence


Growers are celebrating the re-discovery of a plant which has its roots firmly in East Sussex.

The 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.

It is described as a vigorous variety for growing inside and out, with medium-sized fruit delivering a delicious flavour and making it excellent for salads, cooking and canning.

It was first mentioned in Soft Fruit Growing For The Amateur, published by Penguin in 1942. But then it was lost from cultivation over the years.

With more than 20,000 tomato varieties and counting, tomato guru Terry Marshall still manages to highlight the quality of ‘Plumpton King’ in his definitive book Tomatoes.

Victor Briceno, from Plumpton College, is a plant sleuth and recently tracked them down, still being grown in the United States. He obtained some seeds for the reintroduction trial.

It emerged that in the 1980s Henry Doubleday (now Garden Organic) donated some seeds to a US seed company called GH Organics which has been producing ‘Plumpton King’ since then in North America.

Then Garden Organic UK found the last packet of 12 seeds still in existence in Britain at the back of a dusty drawer and sent them to the college last year. Only three germinated – but they are the parents of hundreds!

‘Plumpton King’ 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 on the message board of The Old Plumptonians website, saying that during that period tomatoes in the salads had all the seeds removed for propagating.

College tutor Jim Miller said: “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 a source of fresh food for our tables. At the present, there is a growing need for genetic diversity in our gardens. Growing such heirloom tomatoes can help preserve and maintain diversity.

“There is an increasing interest in open pollinated varieties instead of modern F1 types.”

On Saturday the annual Plumpton College Open Day saw the reintroduction to the UK of ‘Plumpton King’, with plants for sale to the public .