Some time ago I wrote about the moving play and film, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. The eponymous activity actually features only as a minor theme in the play, and looking back 50 years, it seems impossible that any child might ever have performed such experiments. But in fact it seems that 50 years ago it was easy to perform such experiments – irradiated seeds were sold openly for people to carry out their own plant-breeding experiments.
This piece of forgotten history has been unearthed by Paige Johnson, and is carefully re-told on this gardening blog. Please take your time to read that excellent article, but summarising, back the 1950’s scientists searched for ‘good uses’ of atomic power, and one such activity was the Gamma Garden – a circular garden with a source of gamma rays on a pole in the centre.
The idea was to accelerate mutations in the plants to search for favourable properties. Seeds were also irradiated and sold as ‘Atomic Energized’ and it would have been these seeds on which Matilda in the play would have experimented. Astonishing as this is as a piece of history, I was even more amazed to read that there are still two products readily available which emerged from these plant breeding programmes. The most widely used source of peppermint oil is the ‘Todd’s Mitcham’ cultivar the product of such an atomic experiment, as is the ‘Rio Star’ ruby red grapefruit.
Reading about this piece of history – which is still within my lifetime – I am reminded of the beginning of the novel ‘The Go-Between‘
The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.
Thanks to Jacquie Elkin, Caroline Felgate and John Makepeace for alerting me to this.