David Tristram died peacefully at home with his family last weekend.
He leaves behind a breeding legacy of world-class garden plants which began with Scabious Butterfly Blue. It was launched in 1985 as the UK’s first, truly co-ordinated plant promotion and its immediate and lasting success transformed the way we sell plants to this day on garden centres.
David spent his early working life as a chemist for Guinness in Ireland. He began breeding Crocosmias and other plants in his spare time, carrying on the family tradition that had started 100 years before. However, in 1973 he decided to turn his hobby into a business and so he purchased Walberton Nursery in West Sussex, 20 miles from his family farms in Sompting near Worthing.
By great coincidence, that was the year that Edward Back was setting up the new co-operative of Fargro Plants. David could immediately see the potential of this young but rapidly expanding container-grown garden plant market and so Walberton Nursery became a founder member.
In the early years, Walberton Nursery grew a wide range of conifers, azaleas, and an expanding range of evergreen shrubs. David’s breeding work continued, now on a larger scale and always with the aim of improving a plant’s garden performance. In 1978, with his wife Rosemary, they established Binsted Nursery, next door to their home. Alpines and herbs could now join the expanding Fargro Plants portfolio serving the ever-growing garden centre market.
With Butterfly Blue sales of 500,000 in just three years, David introduced its sister, Pink Mist, in 1988. By now, Fargro Plants had become a nationwide supplier and so David could now plan the release of more of his breeding work. Spiraea Magic Carpet was launched in 1995 and quickly became the go-to variety with its fiery young growth, compact habit and imaginative marketing. Since then, there has been a steady flow of his world class new varieties including – Coreopsis Flying Saucers, Erysimum Fragrant Sunshine, Helleborus Ivory Prince, and Helleborus Rosemary – so special to him that he named it after his wife. It has been widely acclaimed by plantsmen such as Graham Rice as the world’s first niger/orientalis cross. More recently, the Walberton’s trade mark has become part of each cultivar name to recognise his immense contribution to the market.
As the global plant market expanded and with a micro-propagation laboratory now on site, David was able to license his varieties to other countries too. Plant breeder agencies now represented David’s work across the globe, selling his varieties in many territories including North America and Australasia.
His son Mike, who joined the family business in 1989, and who ran Binsted Nursery for many years, continues to develop the Tristram ‘brand’. In 2017, he brought Fleurie, Binsted and Walberton Nurseries together to form Tristram Plants.