Sweet Pea Week at Easton Walled Gardens is one of the county’s horticultural highlights this month.
Nothing epitomises summer more than the showy blooms and heady scents of these annual favourites. Preparations for Sweet Pea Week begin as soon as the gates close behind the previous year’s visitors and Easton Walled Gardens has many other pleasures for visitors this month too.
Working under head gardener, Lady Ursula Cholmeley are senior gardener, Stephen Marsland and fellow gardener Tim Metcalfe-Kemp. It is their job to ensure that the beds and canes of these cottage garden climbers are at their showiest during Sweet Pea Week.
“We grow well over 100 varieties,” said Stephen, “and of course some strains begin to fade so we try to introduce some new varieties each year. Two of my favourites for 2016 are Turquoise Lagoon, which appears in pink but fades to blue, and Blue Vein which appears as orange developing these distinct blue veins. They are both Keith Hammett varieties.”
Steve also produces new varieties himself, although it takes up to ten years of refining the strain before a variety is recognised in the marketplace.
Steve began his career working in a rose nursery and came to Easton Walled Gardens thirteen years ago, as work to discover and recreate the gardens began. “It was a unique opportunity for me to see the garden rise from the mud. The first area I worked on was the cut flower garden and I then designed and built the alpine bed. It is tremendously satisfying to see how far the gardens have progressed.”
Ursula explained that sweet peas have also been used as a feature of the more recently planted wild flower meadows on the far side of the bridge. “We need to remove thistles from the meadows so as we take them up we plant a sweet pea in their place. The effect has been beautiful. The sweet peas ramble through the meadow, giving a lift of colour amongst the pastels of grass heads. They flower a long time too in this environment despite the competition from other plants.”
Many people imagine that creating a wild flower meadow is just a case of leaving nature to seed the chosen piece of ground but the unique biodiversity of these habitats was evolved over hundreds of years and mowing and judicious weeding are required to limit the more vigorous unwanted plants and encourage the native wild flowers and grasses.
The four-acre meadow is the responsibility of Tim, who has worked on the estate for nine years. “There was plenty of work required clearing the land of ground elder and thistles before we could sow any grasses. Bales of grass and hay were brought in from the ancient water meadows at Southwell to spread grasses as well as historic meadow plants. We have also received seeds from Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and orchids, which require the correct microfibral fungal conditions to thrive.”
The ground is quite poor, sloped and in the coldest aspect of the garden but with excellent drainage.
At the highest points of the two meadows, which are separated by an avenue of yew trees, Ursula and Tim have created an orchard of heritage fruit trees including greengages, cherry and apple. Below the orchards are rose gardens within the wild flower meadows. As spring bulbs fade, camassias add colour before the grasses and native wild flowers respond to increasing soil warmth.
“Each year we still have to contend with ground elder and bind weed but yellow yarrow, vetch and marsh orchids have taken hold which serve to keep some of the grasses and pest plants down. Planting sweet peas amongst the meadow has certainly had a positive impact and the whole meadow looks its best in August with bleached, billowing seed heads nodding beside bright meadow flowers.”
Ursula was also quick to point out that it isn’t necessary to have four acres in which to create a wild flower meadow: “You don’t need a big plot, margins by a pond or patches in a back garden can be sown with a variety of ready mixed seeds, which can be found at garden centres.
“You will find that they encourage so much wildlife activity and they are always changing as some plants fade and others appear. You have to look closely and some of the changes are subtle but these types of meadows are very rewarding for humans as well as for native insects and wildlife.”
The perfect chance to see sweet peas in a traditional cottage garden setting as well as meandering thorough the meadows will be this month.
DATES AND EVENTS FOR YOUR DIARY AT EASTON WALLED GARDENS
SWEET PEA WEEK SUNDAY 3RD TO SUNDAY 10TH JULY 2016
Open 11am to 4pm. Admission: £7 adults, child £5 and under 5s go free.
SUNDAYS IN AUGUST
Dog Days when you can bring your four-legged friend along to enjoy evenings in the gardens. 4pm to 6pm.
TEDDY BEARS’ PICNIC
Wednesday 10th and Thursday 18th August, 12.30pm to 3pm. Pack a picnic and your favourite teddy to share an afternoon of storytelling and fun on the Lawn.
EXTEND YOUR STAY
Did you know that the recently renovated Gatehouse Lodge makes the perfect place for a two person getaway? This cosy, luxury, dog friendly cottage has all you need for a relaxing break amongst these beautiful gardens. You can find more details at: www.thegatehouselodge.co.uk
EASTON WALLED GARDENS
Easton, Grantham, NG33 5AP
Tel: 01476 530063