Parham drawing visitors with sweet pea trials

Visitors are flocking to see 50 forms of sweet pea blooming at Parham House as part of a trial to find the best cut flower varieties.

Head gardener Tom Brown in the Parham walled gardens. Image: Supplied
Head gardener Tom Brown in the Parham walled gardens. Image: Supplied

The trial, which has filled Parham's four-acre walled garden, was the brainchild of Tom Brown, who has been head gardener for six years at the site near Pulborough in West Sussex.

Brown and his garden team have been working with Roger Parsons who manages the National Collection of Lathyrus (sweet peas) in Chichester.  Parsons has selected the best 50 varieties for use as cut flowers to be grown at Parham.

Brown previously worked at RHS Wisley where he was involved with the Portsmouth trial fields, and he has continued his interest with plant trialling at Parham. In 2015, it was sunflowers and pumpkins; this year tulips, alliums and sweet peas have taken centre stage.

Sweet peas were chosen for this year for their vivid colours, aroma, and length of bloom in the garden. Their romantic air makes them well suited to Parham's gardens, and they are ideal for traditional flower arrangements in the house.

The plants' seeds were sown in February in Parham's nursery greenhouses and planted outside at the end of March.

More than 300 stems of silver birch were harvested from the estate and used to make woven obelisks for each variety to grow over. From the middle of June onwards the flowers will be constantly cut to assess which are the team's favourites for cut flower arrangements throughout the house.

Favourites will be selected to grow in the garden in the future.  Public input is being gathered via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and in person.

The walled gardens. Image: Supplied


· It is generally believed the first sweet pea seeds were harvested from the wild by a monk on the Italian island of Sicily and sent to an English schoolmaster in 1699.

· In the mid 1880's, a Scotsman named Henry Eckford began hybridizing and selecting sweet peas, introducing much larger, more beautifully formed varieties with a wider range of colours. These "grandifloras" became very successful commercially as cut flowers and were widely grown by horticulturists for exhibition.

· At the turn of the 20th century (in 1901) the most celebrated new form of sweet pea was discovered as a natural mutation in the gardens of the Earl of Spencer. This Spencer type, as they came to be known, had much larger, ruffled upper or standard petals, longer lower wing petals and much showier blossoms overall.

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