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Fruit breeder profiles

Pierre Joseph Esperen

Belgium: 1780 - 1847

According to the Victorian author and fruit enthusiast Robert Hogg, Esperen was born in Ghent, joined the army in his 20s during the Napoleonic wars, and eventually achieved the rank of Major. After leaving the army he seems to have retired to the city of Mechelen, which was known at the time by its French name - Malines - and developed an interest in pomology.

His two most outstanding contributions to the world of fruit are the exquisite winter pear Josephine de Malines (named after his wife), and one of the best greengage plums, Reine Claude de Bavay.

 

James Hutton Kidd

New Zealand: 1877 - 1945

Although born in England, J.H. Kidd grew up in New Zealand when his parents emigrated in the 1880s. As a young man he established a successful fruit-growing business, but his real interest was in breeding new varieties. This was at a time (the start of the 20th century) when there was great interest in applying scientific principles to the development of all kinds of crops, and Kidd kept meticulous records of his research. One of his first new apple varieties was Kidd's Orange Red. Reflecting his own migration, it was a marriage of the old world Cox's Orange Pippin and the new world Delicious. It was quickly recognised as an outstanding apple.

Kidd continued breeding new varieties throughout his life, sending them on for trials at a Dept. of Agriculture research station. Unfortunately he did not live to see the worldwide success of his greatest achievement - Gala, which was released to growers in the 1960s.

More details at the Encylopedia of New Zealand.

 

Hugh Ermen

England: 1928 - 2009

After a long career in horticulture including many years working at the UK National Fruit Collections at Brogdale in Kent, Hugh Ermen retired - and devoted himself to raising new apple varieties. He planted hundreds of dwarf trees in his semi-detached suburban garden, cross-pollinating them and sending the most promising seedlings to the Frank P. Matthews nursery for further trials.

A number have now become established varieties in England, notably Herefordshire Russet, Red Devil, and Scrumptious. A characteristic of Hugh's varieties is that they are usually easy and reliable to grow, and aimed at the gardener as much as the commercial grower.

 

Peter Gideon

USA: 1818 - 1899

Peter Gideon was a self-taught horticulturalist, who moved to the new territory of Minnesota in the 1850s. He set out to develop apple varieties which could survive the extreme cold of Minnesota winters. Stubborn, like the climate, he persisted in planting apple seeds despite years of failure. Realizing that all existing apples were unsuitable he started crossing apples with crab-apples. He was eventually successful in the 1860s, with a hybrid apple seedling of a hardy Siberian crab-apple. He named the new apple Wealthy - after his wife. Wealthy had the size, appearance, and general qualities of other mainstream apples of the time - but unlike all the others, it could also survive Minnesota winters.

Wealthy was quickly taken up by growers across the upper Midwest, and it became a great commercial success - although sadly Gideon seems to have made no personal profit from it.

Wealthy also proved to be the catalyst in inspiring more systematic research into cold-hardy apple varieties. In 1878 the Minnesota State Experimental Fruit Farm was established, with Gideon as Superintendent. This was the nucleus of what eventually became the University of Minnesota's long-running and highly-regarded cold-hardy apple breeding program.

 

If you have any suggestions for additions to this list please get in touch.