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gardening: week in erddig.

Byline: Glyn Smith

THE first flowers are opening on the wigwams of white sweet peas we built in the clock beds on the parterre - which reminds me that the Eckford Sweet Pea Society holds its festival in Wem this weekend.

This quaint little village show in Shropshire could be far more greatly supported by the National Sweet Pea Society.

As it is, although the whole village makes every effort to take part and support it, it remains relatively unknown outside this part of Shropshire.

Holding the National Sweet Pea Show here would really put it on the map and give real history and meaning to growing and exhibiting sweet peas.

I will be popping along to see the exhibits, and to buy some seeds of the old-fashioned sweet peas which we like to grow here in the garden.

Henry Eckford began experimenting with growing and breeding sweet peas in the 1870s. At that time there were only about five different colours but over the next 35 years Henry added many new varieties. Demand for his seeds was so great that he eventually set up his own nursery in the nearby town of Wem. Business grew rapidly in Britain and overseas - especially in America.

In 1896 Henry Eckford raised a pink variety called Prima Donna. This was the start of a great leap in breeding sweet peas as in 1899 Prima Donna produced a variant with wavy petals. This frilly pink appeared in three places simultaneously - at Althorp Park, Northamptonshire' Unwins seed nursery' and at Wem.

The head gardener at Althorp called this novelty Countess Spencer, and it is from this variety that all the modern Spencer sweet peas have been bred.

Eckford died in 1905, the year in which he introduced the first orange variety, which fittingly bears his name.

As well as the white sweet peas on the parterre, we have added sweet peas to our borders - including the orange Henry Eckford' salmon Janet Scott' crimson Edward the seventh' pink Miss Willmott' scarlet Red Ensign' and claret and purple Cupani.

If you are growing sweet peas this year, keep picking the flowers for the house and cutting off any seed pods to keep the plants flowering. They also benefit from liquid feeding to keep them growing and producing flowers. One with extra magnesium will help keep mildew at bay.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jul 15, 2006
Words:390
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