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 This reclassification outdated early naming suggestions for ‘Illumination Pink’ and its sister lines, such as  Digiplexis, while Digitalis ‘Illumination Pink’ just didn’t do justice to the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.

T&M’s plant breeder scoops RHS award in recognition of his creative work

Charles Valin at Thompson & Morgan’s plant breeding grounds near Ipswich

Charles Valin, Thompson & Morgan’s plant breeder has been awarded the 2013 Reginald Cory Memorial Cup by the Royal Horticultural Society.

This prestigious award is given to encourage and reward the production of new garden hardy hybrids. Since 2005 it has been presented to a plant breeder whose work in the hybridisation of a particular species has resulted in the introduction and general availability of exciting new hardy hybrid varieties.

Buddleja ‘Buzz’™

Charles’ most fabulous – and now famous – creation to date is the foxglove, ‘Illumination Pink’, which won the 2012 RHS Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year award. Thanks to Charles’ work, Thompson & Morgan will be launching further colours in the ‘Illumination’ range this year, including an apricot version named ‘Chelsea Gold’ to mark the centenary of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Originally from France, Charles has been breeding plants at Thompson & Morgan for nine years and is responsible for creating some of the company’s most impressive new plant varieties.

Foxglove ‘Illumination Pink’

His achievements include the hugely successful dwarf, branching buddleja, ‘Buzz’™, which now comes in 5 colours, and the highly popular fuchsia ‘Lady in Black’ which is renowned for its ‘flower power’ and which can be used as a climber. Charles was also the first breeder to create an F1 hybrid laurentia and is also well-known for his work with hollyhocks, hellebores, fuchsias and begonias.

Charles says that he feels very lucky to have a job that he enjoys so much and that he finds it both fun and exciting to see what he can create through his work. Thompson & Morgan’s managing director, Paul Hansord, commented “We are very proud of Charles and pleased that his work has been recognised by the RHS”.

Find out more about Charles’ work in plant breeding at home, there’s a reward if you discover a new variety too!

Rebecca Tute

Rebecca works in the Marketing department as part of the busy web team, focusing on updating the UK news and blog pages and Thompson & Morgan’s international website. Rebecca enjoys gardening and learning about flowers and growing vegetables with her young daughter.

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