The History of Guernsey Tomato Growing

The Guernsey Tom
Some say it all began with the tomato…Guernsey’s horticultural origins go back over 200 years when the first greenhouses were erected. Locals dabbled in grape growing but it wasn’t until the advent of the humble tomato that things really took off. In the mid 19th Century Guernsey’s growers were quick to respond to news from medical practitioners that the decorative plant was not only edible but good for your health, and by the 1870s the tomato had overtaken the vine in the island’s glass houses.
The ”Guernsey Tom” dominated the island’s growing industry throughout the 20th Century, with special tomato trains laid on at Southampton and Weymouth during peak periods to cope with the influx. Guernsey became a “glass island”, with 7% of its total surface area under green house by 1950. By the 1970s hundreds of acres of glasshouses were dedicated to tomato growing, with nine million trays per annum exported.

Sadly, increased competition from Dutch producers and changes in the British railway system eventually made the export of the tomato less profitable, and Guernsey growers were forced to diversify. But the seeds had been sown for those green fingered islanders!

How does your garden grow
Freesias, roses, carnations, clematis…the combination of Guernsey’s clement climate and horticultural heritage has resulted in a blooming bounty.
Guernsey floral facts:

• At just 25 square miles Guernsey is home to the largest producer of clematis in the world

• Guernsey’s Bridget Ozanne Fields are home to an area of very rare wild orchids.

• The island also provides two thirds of all the freesias sold in UK

• In 1998 319,000 boxes of roses and 223,000 boxes of freesias were exported

• South African amaryllis “Nerine sarniensis” or Guernsey Lily was named after Guernsey – ‘Sarnia’ being the name the Romans gave to the island of Guernsey. The bulb is indigenous to South Africa and grows in the wild on Table Mountain and other south western mountains of the Cape Province of South Africa. Local legend states that the first bulbs were washed ashore on the west coast of Guernsey from a Dutch ship wrecked whilst en route from Japan

• Candie Gardens boasts two of the earliest examples of greenhouses in the British Isles, believed to be built around 1792

• Camellias and magnolias often grow to be huge in Guernsey, not least in the public gardens of Saumarez Park. These exotic species were originally planted by a Guernsey diplomat who had served as the British Ambassador to Japan

• The gardens of Victor Hugo’s exile home, Hauteville House, have been faithfully renovated and include a kitchen garden, fruit trees and Hugo’s United States of Europe Oak – a living link with this great visionary.

Visitors to Guernsey can head to the Guernsey Flower Centre in the parish of Vale to the see the various growing stages of freesia, the planting of corms, the picking, bunching and boxing of this exotic plant.
Fletchers Freesias at the Guernsey Freesia Centre in the parish of St Sampson's – who despatch two million stems each year – also opens its doors to visitors.


Guernsey Social historian Peter Brehaut gives us n a reminder of one of Guernsey's formally dominant industries: tomato growing.

The Isle O'Sun chip basket was first introduced in 1953 and was used to export 'Guernsey toms' to the UK. At that time the tomato industry was Guernsey's economic mainstay, employing thousands of people, both in growing and in associated trades. The Isle O'Sun logo was used by the Guernsey Tomato Marketing Board, an organisation founded in 1952 to oversee the marketing of all Guernsey tomatoes to more than 150 markets throughout the UK. Prior to this, each grower could send tomatoes to whichever market they chose. In 1961 the 'chip' was superseded by the 'Dutch Tray'. By this time, millions of 'chips' had found their way to the UK, the busiest week being the week ending 11 June 1955 when 793,966 chip baskets were exported.
Tomato packing at the Fruit Export company
To be continued.


  1. Sounds like a trip to Guernsey is on the cards for me then. I nearly came once on the QE2, but it was too rough to tender ashore. Sounds like there is lots for Matron to do there.

  2. We also have the floral Guernsey event in the summer, where all the Parishes have lovely floral displays. The only thing Guernsey has too much of now is traffic!


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