Tuesday 24 August 2010


Vilmorin, depuis 1743, it says on the packet. British readers will have heard of Suttons, Unwins and Thompson and Morgan but how many have heard of Vilmorin? Yet this is one of the oldest and most active of seed companies in the world. In the 18th century they were at the forefront of introducing wonderful New World and Asian plants to western European gardens and today they are the fourth largest seed company in the world. The big British seed houses listed above were all only established in the 19th century, and Suttons has been owned by Vilmorin since 1993.

Linnaeus had only developed his bionomial system for creating taxonomical sense of the living world ten or so years before Phillipe-Victoire de Vilmorin took over his wife's family business. She was the daughter of Louis XV's botanists, a husband and wife team who had set up a seed and plant business in Paris.

Vilmorin was also a botanist and responsible for introducing new plants ranging from the Virginia Tulip Tree to the field beet. Throughout the 19th century family members continued to be involved with the business and plant breeding. They are particularly noted for having published academic notes which laid the foundations for modern seed breeding and improving the field beet from little more than fodder to such an extent that French sugar beet was able to compete against Caribbean sugarcane. France had been forced to develop its own sugar industry from the early 19th century, when the British blockaded the coast to prevent imports during the Napoleonic Wars. Even today you will see field after field of sugar beet in northern France and most sugar in the supermarket is derived from beet. If it has come from cane it will say so on the packet.

Today the headquarters of Vilmorin are on the Loire, between Angers and Saumur. They are now the principal brand in multinational group called Limagrain. Their core activity (95%) is the production and distribution of vegetable seeds. They sell 35 species with 500 varieties and are the market leaders for carrots and beans for processing (50% of processed beans in France come from Vilmorin stock). They are also the market leader for tree seeds in Europe and 50% of forestry tree stock in France has been grown from Vilmorin seeds. Their range of 400 species includes broadleaf, ornamentals and rootstocks.



Diane said...

Yet another new thing I have learnt today. DCiane

Carolyn said...

Thanks for this, Susan. "The vegetable garden" by MM Vilmorin-Andrieux was reprinted in the US in English and covers Angelica to Yam in 597 pages (intro by Wm Robinson). It seems very thorough. I just looked at my copy and asparagus, for example, gets 8 pages. I wonder how many of the varieties that grew in Robinson's time are still in the Vilmorin catalog today?

Diogenes said...

I had never heard of Vilmorin. But, I like to garden, so I'll have to pay more attention at the nursery. I think the most common seed brand in the US is "Burpee."

Fascinating about sugar beets being developed during the blockade! - necessity is truly the mother of invention.

Susan said...

Diane: glad you found it informative.

Carolyn: it would be quite interesting to know, wouldn't it? Perhaps I should email them? They will either ignore it or be thrilled that someone is interested.

Diogenes: beets didn't get really productive until the mid-19thC but the impetus for the work to improve them came from the blockade.

Tim said...

As long-term veg growers, Pauline and I have noticed that Vilmorin, Baumaux and even Lidl seed far outstrip the English suppliers for varieties, and perhaps more important... successful germination!!
Baumaux even had the Heinz tomato varieties three years back... different toms for ketchup and Baked Beenz!
There's good reading in a seed catalogue.

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