The garden will be dedicated to Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, a global project that highlights foods at risk of disappearing forever and serves as a catalog of endangered gastronomic cultural heritage and agricultural biodiversity.
The Slow Food Living Ark of Taste Garden at Hampton Court is a collaboration between Slow Food, the world’s largest food movement, Slow Food UK and Franchi Seeds 1783 of Italy.
“We’ve lost 94% of our vegetable varieties in the last 100 years, and today more than ever we need to increase biodiversity in our gardens and on our plates,” says Slow Food UK’s executive chair, Shane Holland. “The Slow Food Living Ark of Taste Garden highlights many of the vegetable varieties at risk of being lost forever—many far rarer than pandas or tigers. It will be visited by thousands of children as well as other members of the public. Slow Food calls upon everyone to grow some food, even if on a windowsill, and to use seeds from a company such as Franchi Seeds, who together with Slow Food are the last vanguard for so much of our edible heritage.”
Franchi Seeds 1783 is the oldest family-run seed company in the world, established in 1783 and still in the same family after seven generations. Paolo Arrigo, director of the Franchi brand in the UK, says: “Before World War II there were more than 40 packet seed companies in the UK that produced their own seeds, and now there are none left. The problem here is that those unique regional varieties they used to produce have also disappeared and so the UK hobby market is now full of standard, mass-produced, corporate varieties with no provenance and limited biodiversity.”
Carlo Petrini, Slow Food’s international president, commented: “This Slow Food Living Ark of Taste garden at the prestigious RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival is very important to helping people realize that biodiversity is not a difficult concept to understand, something just for scientists or professionals, but instead concerns our food and our everyday lives. The creation of this garden perfectly exemplifies the mission of the Ark of Taste project, which is to catalog foods at risk of disappearance and to ensure that they become a shared heritage, that someone is keeping them alive. In order for us to have these varieties for future generations we must grow and eat them now.”
Some examples of the Ark of Taste varieties planted in the Slow Food Living Ark of Taste Garden:
Neapolitan Long Squash
No longer produced commercially, it is mainly grown in back gardens around the city of Naples.
Monstreux de Viroflay Spinach
Dating to at least 1635, this spinach is still grown in just one small suburb of Paris. Despite its superior size, flavor and quality, it is no longer available on the market because its cultivation is not suited to mechanization. Only baby and frozen spinach can now be found in supermarkets.
Neapolitan Ancient Tomato Varieties
The ultimate variety for canning or cooking, the San Marzano has dry, meaty flesh, very thin skin and hardly any seeds. Despite its superiority, the variety is delicate, and modern, high-yielding, resistant hybrids have now been planted all around Salerno, where until 20 years ago traditional varieties dominated.
Castelfranco Motley Radicchio
Now produced only in the town of Castelfranco Veneto, this radicchio has beautiful markings on its large, flower-like leaves and an excellent flavor
Paris Market Carrot
This “Grelot” (bell-type) carrot is low yielding and round with a heart that tends to harden with age, but it is superb for growing in containers and can be planted as late as the end of July. Not many farmers cultivate it anymore; one grower, Laurant Berrurier, says he only produces about 500 bunches (450 kilos) a year to sell.
Dating back to at least 1535, these beans from Vercelli, in Piedmont, are only produced in small quantities. Vercelli is known for its rice, and the beans are typically used in panissa, a traditional type of risotto, and in minestrone.
These days this escarole variety is only grown in small plots around Bergamo’s medieval city walls. Originally from the Alps, it can withstand very cold temperatures and is harvested in the winter.
Nizza Monferrato Hunchback Cardoon
Hunchback cardoons have been produced since Roman times, long before artichokes. They can be stuffed or fried, and in Piedmont are traditionally eaten with bagna caoda, a dip made with butter, anchovies and garlic.