These two common garden varieties of plants seem to be strange equals. Yet we must look back to 1830 when a man was born in Rutland a small town in Tinwell England. He started off his professional life as a solicitor or in America he would be known as a (Lawyer). His interests turned towards horticulture or plant husbandry as it was called then. He started corresponding with Charles Darwin as his fascination with how more precisely plants passed on certain traits to their offspring. By 1858 at the age of 28, he was breeding Peas at a place called St. Mary’s Hill in Stamford. As his creations increased so did his corresponded to Charles Darwin about his outcomes. Darwin made several notations about his thoughts and commented about them several times in his (Darwin’s Notes)
In his breeding process, he used the scientific process and accurately noted all parent’s attributes and how they followed through to their progeny. He first perceived a concept that later has been recognized as hybrid vigor. He watched closely the susceptibility of first-generation and second-generation plants to disease and their resistance to their American counterparts added to their lineage. He bred and back bred to gain the best traits of the American varieties into common English varieties.
He did this without the knowledge of Mendel who in Germany was secluded in a monastery and whose works would later be published. His motivation was to improve varieties, not how genetics worked as did Mendel.
He moved his operation to Bedfordhigh Street in 1872 and began breeding strawberries of which he produced several new varieties including the Royal Sovereign strawberry. He also developed the Superb and Lawton’s Fortune apples.
This gentleman and his sons and grandsons produced many varieties of peas that they sold through there store. Along with strawberries, currants and apples. His death was in 1893 but his works live on in one variety of heirloom peas.
His name was Thomas Laxton (1830-1893), the pea is the “Laxton Pea”, the strawberry “Royal Sovereign.”
Thomas Laxton is considered the greatest pea breeder ever, and this century-old variety is his masterpiece. Try it and see why.
© KEN WILSON