In the early days of restoration, most of the work was carried out with heavy machinery. It got the job done but the focus was on destruction rather than horticulture. Our solution was to start growing annual cut flowers in an undisturbed corner of the gardens.
The queen of cut flowers is, of course, the sweet pea. Sweet peas relish our cold valley in winter and appreciate the warm sunlit beds in summer. It came as no surprise when older visitors remembered how fond Sir Hugh Cholmeley was of sweet peas back in the 1950s and 60s. They grow very well for us here.
We have grown sweet peas since 2001; the first year we grew one row. Now we grow eight double rows on bamboo canes and about 30 drums of sweet peas. In 2015 we raised 100 varieties for the first time and are experimenting with our own lines, dwarf sweet peas, floribundas and new ways of using sweet peas in the garden. Every year we trial new varieties and drop some that are less successful.
The seed is harvested in late summer, checked for quality and packeted for visitors to buy year round. Ursula Cholmeley writes regularly on sweet pea cultivation for national publications and our senior gardener Stephen Marsland is working on his own sweet pea varieties.
Each year when the roses are out in the meadows and the canes are filled with strong sweet pea plants, we open the gardens for Sweet Pea Week. Visitors are able to see some perfect blooms in stripes, bicolours, picotee, pastels and deep velvet tones. The scent alone is worth the trip!
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