Ask anyone and they'll tell you that strawberries are almost as synonymous with Wimbledon as the grass itself. England's most famous fruit has a long and happy history with The Championships, and getting the berries to Wimbledon each day is just one of the many extraordinary tasks that happens like clockwork to make Wimbledon what it is.
We travelled to Kent to talk to one of The Championships' main strawberry growers, Marion Regan.
THE STRAWBERRY GROWER - Marion Regan
The natural peak of the British strawberry season comes during the Wimbledon fortnight, so it’s no accident that Wimbledon is synonymous with strawberries.
My great grandfather’s family used to have a stall in Covent Garden market. Since he was the youngest of several brothers, he was sent to run the farm in Kent, and he planted his first crop of strawberries in 1893. We rotate the crops around our 1300 acres, so we have strawberries from May all the way through to October. We plant the strawberries for Wimbledon the previous summer, and then in March we cover them with tunnels, which means that they ripen reliably without being stopped by the rain, unlike the tennis at Wimbledon!
FMC, who are the caterers to Wimbledon, came to us about 15 to 20 years ago and asked us if we’d like to do the Wimbledon contract, which was fantastic. As a single event, it is obviously one of the biggest, somewhere between 23 and 25 tonnes, and the spotlight is really on the quantity and reliability of supply.
I’m absolutely passionate about the strawberry because it is a very unusual crop. There are so many different varieties and so many ways you can grow it. Because it’s a woody plant, it’s in the ground for anything between one and four years, and the art is in persuading it to put its energies into producing fruit, and not into producing leaves and runners. Even if it does grow fruit, the trick is nurturing it so that the fruit needs to be big and plump and sweet, rather than grown quickly so that it’s hard and crunchy and sour. We do an awful lot of walking the crop, monitoring it, making sure there isn’t anything attacking it, and checking that it’s getting everything it needs. You also need really skilled pickers because they need to pick over a long period of time.
During the Wimbledon fortnight, we start picking at five in the morning every day, the strawberries are cooled in our packhouse, and then the punnets are weighed. Reynolds, the company which supply FMC with all the fresh produce for Wimbledon, send a special truck to collect the order, and it goes into Wimbledon that afternoon. So some of the strawberries will actually be eaten on the day that they’re picked!
I don’t think there’s a single strawberry grower in the country who isn’t a Wimbledon fan. We have more than just a passing interest in it, because if it’s a good Wimbledon then it’s good for all strawberry growers because it really does showcase the best of British strawberries. We’re normally too busy in the Wimbledon fortnight to go, but I watch it on the television.
WIMBLEDON STRAWBERRIES - FACTS AND FIGURES