Tag Archive: conservation

The 'Alderman' Pea- a heritage or heirloom variety

The ‘Alderman’ Pea- a heritage or heirloom variety

So, we made it to number 12. And what’s left to capture the essence of gardening? Well, I think I must put something in about legacy. So I’ve chosen an example of the humble pea, but not just any- an heirloom or heritage variety called ‘Alderman’.

In an interesting article about the heirloom or heritage varieties of pea held at the John Innes Centre in nearby Norwich, Mike Ambrose describes how the number of varieties of pea mentioned in seed catalogues increased over the 19th century, though in truth probably many were not ‘new’ varieties but thought to be such by their discoverers.

‘Peas were one of the most highly prized vegetables not just because of their nutritional qualities but also for their ease of cultivation and the range of varieties that ensured a succession of fresh produce over an extended season from May to October. Seed catalogues from the 1800’s contained many pages of descriptions of the varieties and in many, peas were placed at the front of the list. The Suttons catalogue of Vegetable seeds lists 53 varieties of peas compared to 14 broad beans whereas EW King & Co catalogue lists 49 peas to only 8 broad beans. Arthur Sutton in his paper on the progress of vegetable cultivation during Queen Victoria’s reign, interestingly also starts with peas which he refers to as the ‘Prince of Vegetables’.

The highly inbreeding nature of peas means that once fixed, particular variants or lines were particularly easy to maintain and it is clear from descriptions and illustrations as far back as the late 1500’s that peas such as parchmentless and fascinated types merited their own description and attributes (Gerard’s Herbal 1597). Prior to the rediscovery of Mendel’s work on the basis of inheritance in the early years of the 1900’s, there are clear references in the literature to selections being made from existing varieties as well as crossings between lines from which multiple forms were derived. In the absence of an understanding as to the underlying mechanism, the work was largely very largely empirical and selections in segregating populations resulting from crosses would have been only fixed for major characters leaving plenty of scope for further selection in subsequent generations.

Such was the clamour for improved varieties from growers in a market where there was no restriction in seed marketing and references can be found that openly refer to the prolific development of synonyms. Sherwood in 1898 noted the anomaly that, “while the number of listed varieties in catalogues was falling, the number of names of peas were ever increasing as more and more new varieties were being announced or shall I say old friends with new names”.

This was a brave statement of what was a widespread practise and he goes on to say “I need hardly say that they may easily be reduced to one fourth that number (150) as so many are only synonyms well known to those who test them each year: but it is not my intention to apply the pruning-knife, as I should most likely bring about my head a hornet’s nest of protests from those who do not agree with me.” This from someone who was involved with the growing of nearly 700 rows of different marketed peas for comparison in 1898 in his trial grounds in Essex…’

So my last object captures the way gardeners and breeders have taken natural processes of hybridisation among plants and developed varieties with new chracteristics- whether in foliage, flower, fruit or other ways. This legacy has added to nature’s own bounty and given us as gardeners ever more choice. But of course nature (and the growth in plant breeder’s rights) can also destroy or limit this variety. So it’s great to see initiatives like the conservation work of the NCCPG, Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault- which both attempt to collect, and in Garden Organic’s case, promote the growing of, varieties that are in danger of being lost

…I leave to another place the debate over whether ever-increasing new varieties and the growing control of the varieties available commercially are ultimately ‘good’ things and of course the even more controversial topic of how genetic modification can even further extend our control of nature…

For us more modest gardeners, legacy may not be about breeding or discovering new varieties of plant and then finding a name for them (often of a cherished loved one, or for the more narcissistic, choosing one’s own name). Rather, it will be in leaving what we have created in our gardens and quite possibly what we pass on to sons, daughters and others (e.g. in school or community growing projects) by way of our skills and knowledge gained over many seasons.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading this and the previous posts in the series. You can access all of them via  ‘The Essence of Gardening in 12 Objects’ in the ‘My articles classified’ list on the right- but as a ready reference I’ll list out all 12 below:

1: Compost Heap– looking after our soil and feeding plants

2: Plant Label– propagation by seed and nurturing plants

3: Wardian Case– the expansion of plant choice through importation and creation of micro climates

4: Hand fork– weeding and soil care

5: Topiary– cutting plant stems to control shape and propagate

6: NGS Booklet– sharing our gardens and learning from them

7: Compass and compasses– positioning plants and design

8: Half Moon– constructing and shaping the garden and lunar phase gardening

9: Weather Satellite– watching and responding to the weather and further technological developments to aid the gardener

10: Trug– growing plants to eat

11: Garden Bench– sitting and enjoying the garden

12: Heirloom Pea – legacy through hybridisation and passing on our skills and knowledge to the next generation

Further information:

Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library

‘Seed Sense’- The Guardian

Svalbard Global Seed Vault

NCCPG Plant Heritage

EU Seed Law update and why grow Heritage seeds- Permaculture Magazine

 Old School Gardener


Domestic Scale Rain Garden

Rain Gardens

‘A rain garden is a planted depression or a hole that allows rainwater runoff from impervious urban areas, like roofs, driveways, walkways, parking lots, and compacted lawn areas, the opportunity to be absorbed. This reduces rain runoff by allowing stormwater to soak into the ground (as opposed to flowing into storm drains and surface waters which causes erosion, water pollution, flooding, and diminished groundwater). They can be designed for specific soils and climates. The purpose of a rain garden is to improve water quality in nearby bodies of water. Rain gardens can cut down on the amount of pollution reaching creeks and streams by up to 30%.’

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rain_garden
Tutorial: seagrant

via Avantgardens

Roses are one of the splendours of the gardens

Roses are one of the splendours of the gardens

The Peckovers – a quaker banking family – left behind them a secret gem of a house and garden in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. This is one ‘banker’s bonus’ that can be shared by everyone.

Peckover House is said to be one of the finest Georgian town houses in the country. It stands proudly fronting the River Nene in this Fenland market town of 20,000 people. Originally built in 1722, the house was initially rented by the Peckovers in 1794, and purchased soon after. Jonathan Peckover had a grocery business and then moved into banking, setting up the first bank in Wisbech in partnership with the Gurney family- who later founded Barclays Bank. Peckover established a good reputation – it was said that during times of financial crisis the Peckover Bank was safer than the Bank of England!

Peckover House was initially called Bank House, reflecting the role of the house and it’s newly built banking wing. The property remained in the family for over 150 years, eventually passing over to the National Trust from its last owner, Alexandrina Peckover, in 1948.

The gardens – of around 2 acres – extend to the rear of the house and grew over the years as the family purchased ground from adjacent landowners. They also included a much larger estate extending to 48 acres, much of which today is used as playing fields and has some character-ful old trees. The Peckovers were also  keen collectors, and introduced a number of foreign plants into the garden. The gardens today maintain the basic layout from Victorian times –  including the old walls that used to mark the boundaries of adjacent properties.

The rear of the hous with the Croquet lawn in front- surrounded by some glorious trees such as the Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

The rear of the house with the Croquet lawn in front- surrounded by some glorious trees such as the Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Step out into the garden and you feel as though you are back in Victorian times, as you move from one delightful space to another.

Once needing a team of 17 gardeners, todays gardening team of three is headed up by Allison Napier. She finds it difficult to single out her favourite part of the garden –  ‘It depends on the time of year’, she says. ‘In late winter and early spring the Wilderness Walk is full of the colours and scents from bulbs, Hellebores, Winter Honeysuckle, Christmas Box and an impressive Cornus mas. There is also the  fantastic trunk of an old Ginkgo which stands out and this with surrounding evergreens, deciduous shrubs and trees creates a strong framework.’

‘In spring the Orangery is a riot of colour and fragrance from the various bulbs and other spring plants all arranged in terracotta pots on the staging and if the flowering of the Wisteria on the front of the house coincides with the wall flowers in the various formal beds at their peak, then that is a wonderful spot.’

Inside the orangery- a heady mix of seasonal colour and fragrance

Inside the Orangery- a heady mix of seasonal colour and fragrance

And what about the summer The various rose gardens come into their own. There are over 60 species of rose here, many lovingly pruned and tied in every year over several metal pergolas and against walls. The area christened ‘Alexandrina’s Rose Garden‘ is a particular focal point.

But the show isn’t over yet. In late summer and autumn a ‘Red Border’ provides an array of warm colours and varied textures which are set off brilliantly against a golden privet hedge. This and an Autumn Border provide a glorious conclusion to the year. Jenny Windsor, one of the gardening team, loves these herbaceous borders and especially the contrast that they offer to other, more formal areas of the garden. ‘I love nothing more than to ‘have a play’ in the borders,’ she says –  ‘weeding, dead heading, tying in etc.’

Herbaceous borders

Herbaceous borders surrounding the Orchard Lawn with a fine old Quince tree

Many first-time visitors are surprised at the size and variety of plants in the garden. And, not surprisingly, they also commend the high standards of care maintained by the team.

Very few chemicals are used in the gardens and Allison finds that biological controls are effective in the glasshouses. As she says,

‘The healthy populations of beneficial insects, frogs and birds in the garden are testament to the ‘greener gardening’ policies we like to follow.’

The orangery (left) has rotten timbers and is due for a major renovation this year

The orangery (left) has rotten timbers and is due for a major renovation this year

The gardening team is well supported by local volunteers and a small number of trainees who come to gain practical horticultural experience (as I know, because I had the pleasure of being one last year!). Allison also thinks it important to encourage future generations of potential gardeners, so the team actively seeks school visits and has a Garden Club with students from the local grammar school.

Gardeners Jenny and Janet digging over and mulching the 'Red Border'

Gardeners Jenny and Janet digging over and mulching the ‘Red Border’

What of the future? Well,the forthcoming restoration of the Orangery – with its 300 year old orange trees – is a major project due to get under way this year. Allison plans to complete work on the Conservation Plan for the garden this year, but it will be a major challenge working out the priorities and policies for the future, especially as the climate appears to be entering a very unpredictable phase affecting decisions about the range of plants to be used.

Still, the team seem to be a pretty content bunch, even though on occasions paperwork and ‘office stuff’ may get in the way of being outside and doing what they love. As Allison says, even the laborious turning of the compost heaps can sometimes be rewarding:

  ‘.. it gives you a good workout and you can find a surprising  number of lost hand tools!’

Gardener in charge Allison Napier- normally not sitting on the compost, but turnning it!

Gardener in charge Allison Napier- normally not sitting on the compost, but turning it!

Acknowledgement: thanks to Allison, Jenny and Janet, the Peckover Gardening Team for their contributions.


answers to the two on the post ‘Lock down- pros and cons of garden ties’

  • Hello Miss Black – Hyacinth
  • A punch up in the water – hydrophyte

Old School Gardener

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moth on leafA new report charting the numbers of moths in Britain over forty years makes grim reading. Climate change and habitat loss are driving some to extinction – especially in southern Britain.

Moths are perhaps not as popular as butterflies. But they are an important ‘indicator’ of how our native ecology is faring, a significant pollinator and source of food for birds, bats etc. Whilst many are subtly coloured, others are as eye-catching as their cousins.

The Butterfly Conservation report  says that two-thirds of common and widespread larger species of moth (macro-moths) declined in the last 40 years, most seriously in southern Britain. The report suggests that the decline in habitats through development and agricultural practices are the factors behind the decline in the south, whereas it sees climate change (a gradual warming) as a key factor in the broadly neutral results in the north – declines in some species have been matched by increases in others.

And climate change is also the explanation behind the growth in new species in the country. More than 100 species have been recorded for the first time in Britain this century and 27 species have colonised Britain from the year 2000 onwards. However, the report says that three species have become extinct in the last 10 years and three more are at serious risk of extinction, having already declined by more than 90% in the last forty years.

What can gardeners do to create the right habitats for moths? The Royal Horticultural Society makes several suggestions about planting.

  • Night-flowering, nectar-rich plants, such as Nicotiana (Tobacco plant) and Evening Primrose (Oenothera) have evolved to feed night flying insects – and the wonderful evening scent of some is a bonus for any garden
  • Day flying moths can be served by plants such as Sea Lavender, Buddlejas, Red Valerian and Lychnis
  • It’s also important to provide food for caterpillars with plants such as Clarkia and Fuchsia. leaving a ‘wilder’ area of the garden with longer grasses, thistles and knapweeds will benefit smaller moths. Many native trees, hedges and ornamental plants also provide food sources fo moth caterpillars.
Garden Tiger Moth caterpillar

Garden Tiger Moth caterpillar

Kate Bradbury suggests:

‘Avoid using pesticides to give their caterpillars free rein on your plants (which will mostly only be nibbled a bit – so don’t worry).’

The website Mothscount says we also need to tolerate some untidiness in our gardens:

‘Moths and their caterpillars need fallen leaves, old stems and other plant debris to help them hide from predators, and especially to provide suitable places to spend the winter. It’s very helpful to delay cutting back old plants until the spring, rather than doing it in the autumn, and just generally be less tidy. If you want your garden to look tidy in the summer, try leaving some old plant material behind the back of borders or in other places out of sight…..’

All green form of the Red - Green Carpet Moth'

All green form of the Red – Green Carpet Moth

Further information:

Back Garden moth.org

Winners and losers in latest butterfly survey – 7 tips for gardeners

Old School Gardener

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