The Potato Story, an exhibit without a single decorative bloom on show, charmed Chelsea Flower Show judges into awarding a Great Pavilion Gold Medal to Scottish potato aficionados Morrice and Ann Innes – the first to be awarded to a potato-only display in the show’s 150-year history. The display, which included varieties bred at the James Hutton Institute and from the Commonwealth Potato Collection hosted in Dundee, acted as a showcase of the humble potato by highlighting more than 140 varieties and tracing its history, while drawing attention to its diversity and versatility in the garden and kitchen. It was sponsored by horticultural company Thompson & Morgan.
Morrice Innes, of Old Town, Aberdeen, claims to have the largest private collection of potato varieties, built up over 20 years, and has long championed his favourite vegetable. Mr Innes said: “We’ve tried to tell the tale of the potato by highlighting a vast array of skin colours, shapes and sizes, while suggesting the best uses of each variety and the places where they come from. You won’t find many of the varieties for sale at the supermarket. Hopefully we’ll help inspire more people to grow potatoes and to try some of the more unusual forms while they are at it.”
In addition to species from Mr Innes’ own collection, original South American species from the Commonwealth Potato Collection hosted at the James Hutton Institute were showcased in the display. The CPC is the UK’s genebank of landrace and wild potatoes held in trust by the James Hutton Institute with the support of the Scottish Government. The collection is one of a network of international potato genebanks. It comprises around 1500 accessions of about 80 wild and cultivated potato species. Each accession traces back to a handful of berries or tubers from potato plants in South or Central America, gathered from the wild or obtained from a grower at a market. Such genetic resources are priceless, comprising the basic resource for the improvement and adaptation of one of the world’s most important food crops.
Professor Derek Stewart, Enhancing Crop Productivity and Utilisation research theme leader at the Institute, congratulated Mr Innes and commented: “This is a wonderful success for Maurice and Ann and truly showcases the diversity of potato. We at the James Hutton Institute are happy that we were able to help and reveal only a fraction of the gem that is the Commonwealth Potato Collection. Given that new predictions estimate a global population of 11 billion by 2100 and potato has become the third most important food crop, this collection will become even more valuable as it hosts future sources of genes for the generation of potato varieties with increased disease resistance, yield, sustainability and nutritive value. Furthermore the Scottish Government must be also be congratulated for underpinning funding for the collection.”