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Plant of the month – tomato

Tomatoes grown at Fulham Palace are a favourite at this time of year. With the spectacular jungle of different delicious cultivars, we are growing in the Vinery. To be honest, I’ve never liked tomatoes; it’s a bit like the marmite situation until I tried some from our plants… The other gardeners insisted I would like them and sure enough I did!

I was inspired to look into the origin of this much loved, but rather mysterious fruit as I’ve watched them grow and take over the Vinery with their wonderful scent and form over the last few weeks.

The wild tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) is in the same family as potatoes and chillis (Solanaceae). The species is said to have originated in South and Central America and was being used in Southern Mexico by 500 BC. The indigenous persons of Mexico used tomatoes in their cooking around the time of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire (1519-21), here the Spanish encountered it for the first time after their contact with the Aztecs. It was then introduced into Europe and other parts of the European colonized world in the 16th century. Tomatoes were not grown in the UK until the 1590s. In France, Italy and northern Europe, it was initially grown for purely ornamental reasons as botanists had recognised it as a relative of deadly nightshade, which made them sceptical.

Bishop Compton grew tomatoes when he lived at Fulham Palace between 1675 and 1713.  Although there is no record of the Bishop eating his homegrown tomatoes, it’s quite likely that he did.  We know he was an adventurous eater having tried chilli pepper seeds and the flowers of Cercis canadensis which we have in the garden, for example.

Tomatoes are perennials in their native habitat, but are grown as annuals and are cultivated in temperate climates around the world; they are grown in greenhouses for year-round cropping. There are many different types of fruits and cultivars of tomatoes, from the small cherry to the largest beefsteaks fruits. We have lots of different cultivars growing in the Vinery some examples are, Black Russian, Gardeners Delight and Sungold to name a few!!… So keep your eyes peeled for some punnets on the barrow!