The Casual Gardener: The tomato that no longer delights

It's said that a bad workman always blames his tools but when it comes to a poor tomato crop it appears gardeners are justified in blaming the seeds. John Manley unearths growing concern about old favourite Gardener's Delight...

Tomato growers are raising concerns about the size of 'Gardener's Delight' variety

IT'S been a bad year for me tomato-wise and I suspect I'm not entirely alone in this regard. I was largely the author of my own downfall, it has to be said, because laziness meant I relied on others to raise young plants – and when they can't deliver then I'm banjaxed.

It seems the weather wasn't kind to the appointed nurserymen. A late frost in May wreaked havoc for many plants, tomatoes and others, destroying or arresting what up to that point had been strong growth.

In early July, desperate after trying various stalls and nurseries, I found a few bedraggled plants at a shop where they were probably destined for the brown bin within a matter of days. Progress since, as you might expect, has been slow, despite the addition of some high-grade homemade nettle feed. As I write, all the modest-sized fruits are green with no indication that they plan to ripen any time this side of Halloween.

But news this week confirms that even the most dedicated and vigilant tomato growers can come a cropper, especially, it seems, when growing the traditionally popular ‘Gardener's Delight' variety. This cherry tomato has been a favourite of gardeners for decades and was first deemed a Which? Gardening Best Buy 31 years ago. But the October edition of the consumer magazine reports how ‘Gardener's Delight' has begun to behave increasingly erratically when it comes to fruit size.

The Which? Gardening team first became aware of an issue during their cherry tomato trials earlier this year, when the trials' manager noticed that some of usually small ‘Gardener's Delight' were closer to the size of a salad variety. Contrastingly, other plants of the same variety were yielding fruit which was smaller than a typical cherry tomato.

The Which? Gardening team's hunch about this once widely feted tomato variety grew into something more as readers began reporting similar experiences with their crops. The sentiments of one reader – "After years of growing Gardener's Delight we consider the fruits have become larger and less tasty" – reflected the general disenchantment. Though to confuse matters further, another complained how the fruits were getting smaller and more akin to a cherry tomato variety.

The findings were then presented to Thompson & Morgan, whose veg expert Colin Randall confirmed that the seed company had encountered similar inconsistencies. He explained how 'Gardener's Delight' was first introduced by breeders and seed producers Benary and they sold it to numerous seed suppliers in Britain. For some reason the company stopped producing the seed, forcing its many customers to seek out seed from countries where quality control is not as stringent. This has led to a general diminishment in the seed stock's reliability.

Unlike many other popular tomato varieties, 'Gardener's Delight' is not an F1 hybrid, which means it may have offspring that differ slightly in characteristics, especially with seed collected and grown in the same location – it's basically evolution at work.

Thompson & Morgan told Which? Gardening they had to destroy a batch of GD as it was not the correct variety. However, Robert Aldsworth of Moles Seeds said the changes gardeners have been noticing could be down to growing conditions.

"I have noticed that Gardeners Delight is quite sensitive," he said. "In cooler, duller weather the fruits get big before ripening, while in warmer weather or with very early trusses, the fruits can mature before reaching a normal size." He maintains that other factors, such as indoors/outdoors, growing medium, etc can affect the fruit size.

Unfortunately the results of the Which? Gardening trials that prompted this whole discussion aren't due for another 13 months, whereupon I believe that rather than clearing up this controversy will only fuel more debate.


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