When a small package arrived last week and we had no recollection of ordering any plant material, intrigue filled the air momentarily.
Then a flower logo and letters ‘emr’ stood out and the excitement mounted. It was from the East Malling Research Station in Kent – the Mecca of fruit-growing developments for decades.
Anyone who takes their fruit crops seriously will know that the rootstocks onto which apple cultivars are grafted were developed there.
From the M27, which makes growing full-sized fruits on dwarf trees possible, to the vigorous MM106, best suited to large orchards. The M is for Malling and MM represents Malling-Merton.
Although they are best known for these introductions, especially the facility to grow apples in a patio container, their research envelops soft fruits too – the popular Wellington XXX blackcurrant and raspberry Malling Promise were introduced by them.
East Malling achievements also include the introduction of disease-control systems, propagation techniques and controlled-atmosphere storage.
The latter enables consumers to enjoy a global supply chain delivering affordable fruit 365 days a year. These thoughts and more came to mind as I eagerly opened the package to find a small plastic container, holding a mini strawberry plant with roots set in agar gel.
An accompanying letter explained that they are celebrating 100 years of research at this international centre of horticultural excellence and this was a special strawberry to mark the occasion – Malling Centenary.
It’s a new variety which featured on BBC’s Supermarket Secrets programme recently and is being released to the industry later this month.
I appreciate this surprise gift, but what next?
It is the result of micro-propagation and the first step is to wash all agar from its delicate roots, transfer to a tiny pot with light compost and stand in the propagating frame for a week to recover.
A spell in the open greenhouse, out of direct sunlight, will follow. During this period it will receive adequate water and a regular inspection for greenfly.
It will also go through the potting-on process as roots develop. This is a special plant that will not see the open garden until next spring.
Beyond that lies the anticipation of summer fruits and countless rooted runners to share among gardening friends. What a lovely gift!