Concerns were raised recently by charity Garden Organic that 98 per cent of vegetable varieties have disappeared in the past 100 years (Grower, 20 December). But Mr Fothergill's commercial director Ann Loads has cautioned against sentimentality. She said: "One very good reason why some have disappeared is because they were not that good to begin with and have been superseded by modern introductions."
She claims modern varieties have greater tolerance to pest and diseases resulting from careful selection, such as Carrot Flyaway F1, which resists carrot root fly.
Loads admitted that Fothergill's still sold heritage varieties such as Lettuce 'Tom Thumb' (introduced in 1830) because they were favourites with the consumer.
Charity Garden Organic are encouraging gardeners to grow old varieties of vegetables to maintain diversity which can aid resistance against pests and diseases.
Loads agrees that diversity is desirable: "It is important to have a varied gene pool, of both old and new varieties from which to breed, but we should not dismiss new ones simply because of their modernity. While some modern varieties have been bred with commercial practice in mind, such as ease of mechanical harvest and long storage, which are not important to gardeners, others have been bred for their taste."
She confirmed that "some excellent varieties have regrettably disappeared" because of EU regulations.