Best New Plant Variety - Digitalis 'Illumination', Thompson & Morgan

Digitalis 'Illumination' is a key product for the Thompson & Morgan (Young Plants) spring catalogue and also has strong commercial interest from the garden centre market. It will be supplied exclusively by Farplants for the spring 2012/13 season, with a wider commercial release the following season.

Best New Plant Variety - Digitalis 'Illumination', Thompson & Morgan - image: T&M
Best New Plant Variety - Digitalis 'Illumination', Thompson & Morgan - image: T&M

Digitalis 'Illumination' is a new concept for digitalis that fills an undeveloped niche in the market for advancement of a common species.

T&M began an extensive programme on foxgloves seven years ago. The company looked at the main problems with foxgloves in the market. This was that plants only flower for four to six weeks during the season. In creating Digitalis 'Illumination Pink', T&M created a plant that will flower for up to six months. This is because plants are sterile and do not run to seed.

T&M aimed for unique colour, different flower type, improved branching, longer flowering period and improved repeat flowering when breeding the plant. Foxgloves are mainly biennials, but 'Illumination Pink' is a true perennial and hardy down to -10 degsC, so will come back year after year.

T&M's breeder sourced as many different species of digitalis and other plants that he felt could be crossed into the more common digitalis species. After several years of trials, T&M selected the correct cross to give the required hybrid that met its goals. The cross set little viable seed, but the uniqueness of the variety meant T&M felt justified in going down the route of tissue culture.

The company achieved a unique flower coloration and a different flower shape. This was combined with better branching from the base and a longer flowering season from May to September. Uniformity of plant habit make the plant suitable for the commercial grower. There is also the opportunity to grow as an overwintered crop flowering in April/May and for young plants delivered in spring for flowers in July onwards.

Interest was strong from UK and European growers at flower trials in Holland and the HTA National Plant Show. The plant was on the cover of T&M's catalogue and was awarded Plant of the Year at the 2012 Chelsea Flower Show.

T&M is now looking to add apricot and raspberry colours to the range.

- Judge's comment

"Worthy winner.

Great merits for gardeners" - Adam Pasco

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