Ursula’s recommends growing sweetpeas up a circle of pig netting rather than a wigwam which narrows at the top and restricts flowering – unless you have the time and space to grow them as cordons
She has found that planting a rye grass green manure in ground where sweet peas will grow the following year produces stronger plants that flower for longer
Don’t use bamboo canes – the plants find it too slippery to cling to and need more tying in
I asked one of her team about a problem I have had with my own sweetpeas failing to form flowers properly at the end of the stem I was told that this was caused by temperature fluctuations early in the season. Apparently I have done the right thing by removing these stems to encourage the formation of new flowers
Pick, pick, pick to keep your plants as productive as possible for as long as possible
Look carefully and you will spot the pig netting
This is my new favourite variety – Juliet – subtle colours and deliciously fragrant
About ten years ago I visited the ruins of Easton garden near Grantham in Lincolnshire. Easton has a long and illustrious history and had been home to fourteen generations of the Cholmeley family – until the house was pulled down in the 1950s to avoid death duties. For forty years the surrounding gardens all but disappeared beneath self-sown trees, brambles and nettles, while the family moved to live in a nearby village. I had been invited to Easton to hear plans for the garden’s future by Ursula Cholmeley, who had persuaded her husband Fred that she could bring it back to life. I remember admiring her energy and optimism, but she had barely begun to scratch the surface and it was such an enormous task that I really doubted that she could do it. Could she really transform this neglected valley with its collapsed terraces, tumbled walls and choked river into a garden that was once described by Franklin D Roosevelt described as a `Dream of Nirvana…almost too good to be true´ Over the years I have followed her progress as bit by bit she has uncovered a sleeping beauty – and now I have returned to see what she has achieved – and it’s a marvel.
Looking from the lawn where the house once stood, the beautiful valley is bounded on the near side by terraces with banks of wildflowers divided by generous grass paths. A central flight of steps flanked by sentinel yews leads down to a lawn (complete with croquet hoops) and beyond to the restored bridge that crosses the river and gives access to the Tudor walled garden, where the walls are gradually being rebuilt. Ursula has retained the vast tunnel of yews that is bounded on either side by meadows planted with informal roses and naturalised bulbs.
All of this has been achieved without grants or any outside help, but with enormous effort. I was reminded of Vita Sackville West’s task in pulling Sissinghurst back from dereliction – but without the attendant scandal!
Along with hauling the major part of the garden back from the brink, Ursula has also developed the Pickery where she grows over one hundred varieties of sweetpeas. What started as a way of adding colour to a newly restored area of the garden is now gaining a reputation as a significant collection. Visitors can see and smell (very important) the different varieties and buy Easton grown seed from the shop.
The latest venture is a luxuriously comfortable holiday let on one side of the gatehouse – available by the week or for a long weekend. Now that Ursula proudly describes Easton as “a garden – not a field with aspirations” I can’t think of a lovelier place to stay. www.visiteaston.co.uk
Everything is growing skywards – the weather may bear little resemblance to summer, but the plants are loving it and (as I wrote before) rebuilding the vegetable plot seems to have dramatically reduced the slug and snail population in that part of the garden. Actually, for some unfathomable reason, there generally seem to be fewer in the garden, despite the predictions, and those I have seen have focused on munching the cornflowers to extinction while leaving most other plants untouched.The courgettes and squash growing in the straw bales are very happy – because they are growing in a medium that has remained slightly warm, the cooler wet weather has not affected them.
Next to the straw bales are the beds that I refilled using hugelkultur principles – log base, followed by brushwood, then bark chippings and finally compost and soil. The peas, broad beans, runner beans and sweet peas planted there have all grown at a quite astonishing rate. The broad beans are the best I have ever grown – I started them in pots and planted them out in March and they are now taller than I am and cropping prolifically.
In the greenhouse the tomatoes are flowering their socks of and starting to set the first fruit, while their outdoor blight resistant relatives are rapidly approaching the top of the support posts and I will need to put something taller in.
I’ve never had much luck growing strawberries in the ground or in grow bags so this year I invested in some wrought iron troughs which I have attached to the sturdy handrail (they are heavy) round one of the beds. Slugs, snails and woodlice can get nowhere near them and netting keeps the birds off – resulting in strawberries for breakfast every day.
Regular followers will know that I am a fan of Nicotiana mutabilis, but they are not the easiest plants to germinate. I’ve only managed to raise three plants this year, along with another three that made it through the mild winter. As back up, I ordered some plugs of Nicotiana ‘Whisper Mixed’ with flowers that go through similar colour changes from deep rose pink to palest shell pink. Now both are in flower I’m able to compare. My verdict? If you can’t grow mutabilis ‘Whisper Mixed’ is a good alternative, but it doesn’t have the same delicacy or abundance of flowers. The flowers of mutabilis are rounded with six lobes, while ‘Whisper’ is star-shaped with five lobes. Actually, having both in the garden works well, so maybe that’s the answer.