Thompson & Morgan Plant Breeder honoured

Chelsea Plant of the Year 2012, ‘Illumination Pink’, has been renamed to recognise the work of its creator, Thompson & Morgan plant breeder Charles Valin.

charles valin

Foxglove ‘Illumination Pink’ has taken the gardening world by storm since its launch in 2012. Unusual blooms, repeat flowering and multiple stems keep this unusual cross-breed high on the Thompson & Morgan best seller list. But it has left the experts scratching their heads when it comes to classification.

In recognition of the work carried out by Charles Valin in creating this unique cross as part of Thompson & Morgan’s breeding programme, James Armitage, Principal Scientist of Horticultural Taxonomy at RHS Garden Wisley, has announced Digitalis x valinii as the correct botanical naming convention for all existing and future crosses of D. purpurea and D. canariensis. He said: “The clever use of island species in the creation of D. x valinii has paid rich dividends.”

charles valin foxglove

Lauded as a revolutionary hybrid by RHS taxonomists, it was felt that a reclassification was needed to distinguish all present and future crosses of the UK native Digitalis purpurea and the exotic D. canariensis, while smoothing out confusion over previous naming conventions for its Canary Island parent. 19th Century taxonomists named the Canary Island foxglove Isoplexis canariensis in 1829, recognising its morphological and behavioural differences compared to others in the Digitalis genus, namely a shrubby and candelabra habit and differences in petal shape and flower positioning on the stem.

Modern studies have since indicated that the two genera should not be treated separately, and in 2012 the RHS recognised all Isoplexis as Digitalis, just as the first commercial cross was launched to the public by Thompson & Morgan. This reclassification outdated early naming suggestions for ‘Illumination Pink’ and its sister lines, such as  Digiplexis, while Digitalis ‘Illumination Pink’ just didn’t do justice to the work involved in creating it. It’s common for new cultivars to be named after people, but to have a species named in your honour doesn’t happen very often and was more common in the era of the great plant hunters. Charles said: “I am humbled and grateful to receive such recognition for my work on Digitalis. Having a plant named after you certainly doesn’t happen every day!”

During his time with Thompson & Morgan, Charles has developed over 40 unique creations across a wide range of genera, while overseeing the seed and plant mail order specialist’s unique breeding programme.  View a full list of Charles’ currently available introductions, but key lines alongside ‘Illumination Pink’ include the dwarf Buddleja ‘Buzz’ Series, the world’s first black double petunia ‘ Black Night’ and Cosmos ‘Cupcakes’. Several of Charles’ latest creations are being launched in the Thompson & Morgan 2016 Spring Catalogue. Watch this space!

Thompson & Morgan
Since the first seed catalogue was published in 1855, Thompson & Morgan has grown to become one of the UK’s largest Mail Order Seed and Plant companies. Through the publication of our catalogues and the operation of our award-winning website, Thompson & Morgan is able to provide home gardeners with the very best quality products money can buy.

Scouring Europe for Chelsea centrepiece fit for a Queen

When you know there’s a chance that Her Majesty The Queen might visit your Fresh garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, the last thing you want is a gaping hole where your centrepiece plants should be on display. That was the situation faced by Fernando Gonzalez Garden Design, when UK

Thompson & Morgan's Digitalis Illumination Apricot

Thompson & Morgan’s Digitalis Illumination Apricot

stocks of Digitalis ‘Illumination Apricot’ failed to flower in time for display in the Pure Land
Foundation Garden, already being flagged as the most prestigious show gardens at this year’s event. With just four days to finish before the Queen’s annual visit to the world’s most prominent gardening event, a nationwide hunt for flowering plants threw up no leads. The plant’s creator, mail order seed and plant specialist Thompson & Morgan, stepped in to widen the search, calling on growers across Europe. Plants in perfect bloom were quickly tracked down at a nursery outside Barcelona, Spain, more than 1,500km from its Ipswich HQ!
New Product Development Manager, Michael Perry said: “Knowing our ‘Illumination Apricot’ was playing a major part in this cutting-edge show garden, we just had to help out.”At end of play Thursday it called on 250 staff, seeking a volunteer to make the mad-dash 3,000km round trip to get the plants on UK soil in time for Saturday’s big garden build. Up stepped marketing assistant Terri Overett, letting herself in for a 4am start and an 18-hour journey to get the plants to the UK in time.

First a plane ride to Barcelona El Prat, a taxi to the nursery an hour east of the city, then back to the airport to face the worry of getting them safely back to the UK in a cold cargo hold.

Terri Overett arriving at Stansted relieved to find plants had stayed in perfect condition during the flight from Barcelona.

Terri Overett arriving at Stansted relieved to find plants had stayed in perfect condition during the flight from Barcelona.

A very relieved chaperone found the plants in good condition once through customs, where colleagues were on hand to rush the plants into London in time to put finishing touches to the Pure Land Foundation Garden on Royal Hospital Way.

Michael Perry delivering the precious cargo to the Gonzalez Garden Design garden

Michael Perry delivering the precious cargo to the Gonzalez Garden Design garden

The design team’s Director, Thang Vo-Ta said: “Fernando and I are so grateful for all the effort put in by the team – they definitely thought outside the box to help get the plants in place on time. It was the company’s Chelsea Flower of the Year Award for Digitalis ‘Illumination Pink’ in 2012, that inspired us to use the new sister line “Illumination Apricot” in our garden. We can’t wait for the public to see the finished design in its full glory with stunning apricot foxgloves as a planting focal point of our Pure Land Foundation garden. Fingers crossed Her Majesty The Queen just might honour us with a visit and enjoy everyone’s efforts.”

Plants on trial – a sneaky peak

I have always been a fan of over the top, in your face bedding displays and every year I plant out hundreds of plants in beds, pots and baskets. Over the last few years, due to work commitments, I have been finding the up keep a bit difficult.


Alstroemeria ‘Planet Mix’

Last year I planted Alstroemeria ‘Planet Mix’ in one of the beds. They gave a great show last year and have been in flower since May this year. Each week I can easily cut 20 stems of flowers without harming the display. Gaillardia ‘Arizona Sun’ has also come back bigger and better this year. I just love the combination of red and yellow in the flowers.


Gaillardia ‘Arizona Sun’

Early this year I converted another two beds to display perennial plants. Considering it’s only the first summer after planting I am really surprised at how mature it all looks. I have used cottage garden plants along with Penstemon ‘Wedding Bells’ and Foxglove which were both sent as trial plants last year. The spotty markings in the foxglove are just fab!



Begonias have to be my favourite plant. I am so glad that Thompson & Morgan are reviving these plants as they truly are amazing. Glowing Embers, Peardrop and Giant Picotee have all started to flower. A few years ago I trialled a trailing fragrant variety of begonia. I still have some of these tubers left and this year I have planted them in a window box under the kitchen window. The sweet scent is lovely in the warm muggy evenings we have been having.


Another favourite are petunias. I just love how T&M find new amazing colour combos in the flowers each year.  I have  planted Black Cherry in my Begonia Apricot Shades baskets. I am hoping the black of the flower will contrast well with the citrus colours of the begonias. The scent of petunias is just intoxicating too. The dark varieties seem to have the strongest. I wish someone could capture this and put it into a candle.


I do not plant as many containers for the winter season, so once all the plants had finished I would empty the compost into the large tonne bags you can get from the builders. This year as I have drastically reduced the amount of summer containers I have planted I still have a full tonne bag of compost left. Not knowing what to do with it I decided to plant veg in it. I think I have gone a bit over the top by planting tomatoes, chillies, aubergines, sweet corn, marrow and cucumbers in it. I have also planted climbing beans around the edge. The idea being they will trail and cover the sides.


So far everything is growing superbly. I have already harvested tomatoes, cucumber and chillies. The sweetcorn is almost 5 foot tall! In separate planters I have peas almost ready to pick and the tomato also has fruit setting.

Well, I must get back to the watering. I hope to update you all on the garden very soon!

Bijal Mistry
As a member of Thompson & Morgan’s customer trial panel, Bijal Mistry tests plants, bulbs and seeds in his own garden on the outskirts of Manchester. He has won several awards and is happiest tending to his garden, especially the begonias and poinsettias!

Chelsea Flower Show, the floral sweet shop

I’m like a kid in a sweet shop when it comes to plants.. Well, there’s no better sweet shop than the RHS Chelsea Flower Show! Even if you don’t know your tulip from your tropaeolum, it’s hard not to be enthralled by this prestigious show, which will be in its centenary year when it opens on 21st May.

Let me take you back to my very first visit as a 16 year old trainee plant nut… from the very moment I stepped over the threshold, clutching my ticket stub and armed with notepad and pocket camera, I don’t think I had any idea of the sensual journey I was about to start…

Chelsea Flower Show - the floral sweet shop


From 8am, visitors spill into the show, instantly filling the avenues with enthusiasm, excitement and horticultural camaraderie. It’s fair to say that most make their way straight to the main marquee, for this is where the smorgasbord of plants and flowers awaits. A destination so popular that it now needs directional signs, much like Ikea!

Chelsea Flower Show - the floral sweet shop

Strawberry towers – just imagine how good they smell!

Every sense here is teased, tousled, massaged. Whether its your eyes when you see the towering spikes of the highest quality lupins, or your nose when you experience the fragrance of the sweetest strawberries, arranged in vertical barrels like beacons of fruity colour. It’s an unbelievable fragrance that needs to be experienced for real!

Chelsea Flower Show - the floral sweet shop

Breathtaking lupins

Other iconic sights in the main marquee include the almost steroid-packed, 6 feet, yes SIX feet tall, delphiniums and the gorgeous auricula theatres, where these delicate, brightly coloured little gems are set off perfectly against black wooden backing. There are also the great horticultural achievements of those ‘out of season’ displays. A perfect example is the majestic display of hyacinths, grown with specialist skill in order to flower out of sync with their natural behaviour! It’s these elements that make preparing for Chelsea displays so utterly nerve-wracking!

Chelsea Flower Show - the floral sweet shop

6-feet tall delphiniums!

Visiting gardens and flower shows is an experience like no other; friends, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, gardening rivals, they’re all here, either on their tiptoes to see the latest Laurent-Perrier garden, or playfully fighting it out over which species that meconopsis is. Gardeners can be some of the most competitive people!

Chelsea Flower Show - the floral sweet shop

Hyacinths in bloom… in May

Of course, it’s easy to get so wrapped up in the plant marquee that you forget there’s a whole host of other stimulation outdoors – the show gardens.

Chelsea Flower Show - the floral sweet shop

Stunning show gardens

Each year, a wide range of companies sponsor some stimulating gardens. Some are often a little bit ‘Marmite’ (you either love them or hate them!), but do you know what, it’s gets you talking at least!!  To see the best of gardens, I recommend getting into the show early. Or being tall!

So how is Thompson & Morgan involved in the show this year? Well, we are still glowing from our Best New Plant win for Foxglove ‘Illumination Pink’ in 2012.

This is an incredible plant, bred by Thompson & Morgan. Its a plant that rights all the wrongs usually associated with foxgloves. Firstly, it flowers for SIX months without pause – usual foxgloves can only spit out a month’s worth of blooms, if that! Secondly, it is a hardy perennial – foxgloves are usually biennial and die out after they flower! Lastly, the colours are some that you have NEVER seen before, like a basket of tropical fruit!

Chelsea Flower Show - the floral sweet shop

Foxglove ‘Illumination Pink’ – Best New Plant 2012

And, this year, we’ll have some more sure shots for this coveted prize, careful growing is taking place as we speak, getting plants all preened for show day. We’ve revolutionised another perennial border plant too. But, I won’t spoil the surprise, you’ll have to visit the show yourself to see them!

Michael Perry
Michael works as Thompson & Morgan’s New Product Development Manager, scouring the globe for new and innovative products and concepts to keep the keen gardeners as well as amateurs of the UK happy!

Futuristic foxgloves

Futuristic foxgloves

Futuristic foxgloves

Foxglove ‘Illumination Pink’

Thompson & Morgan are like magicians when it comes to plants.. we breed our own!

So, if we see a plant that is short-changing gardeners, perhaps only flowering for a fleeting moment, then we can step in and make some slight adjustments!

There’s no better example than with star of Chelsea Flower Show 2012, Foxglove ‘Illumination Pink’. This incredible plant rights all the wrongs usually associated with foxgloves.

Firstly, ‘Illumination Pink’ flowers for SIX months without a break.. usual foxgloves can only give a month worth of flowers. Secondly, it is hardy… usual digitalis are biennials, and die out after flowering. Lastly, the colours are rare and you won’t ever have seen them before; think mangos, strawberries, papaya!

After winning Best New Plant at Chelsea Flower Show 2012, our customers couldn’t get enough of this ever border perennial, we sold out out in days.

Futuristic foxgloves

Foxglove ‘Chelsea Gold’

Order your plants now for flowering THIS summer, but be quick though, we expect demand to be high. Foxglove ‘Illumination Pink’ continues to be the UK’s most in demand plant, and this year it’s available in new ‘Chelsea Gold’ colour too.

Look out for me at or follow me on twitter @gardening_greek, where I’m posting information on new plants daily.

Michael Perry
Michael works as Thompson & Morgan’s New Product Development Manager, scouring the globe for new and innovative products and concepts to keep the keen gardeners as well as amateurs of the UK happy!

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