Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sweet peas and apple crumble

A completely irrelevant picture of my garden, taken on 17 October, when we could still pretend it was summer

I was invited to a lovely luncheon party today, hosted by Lady Hamilton of Dalzell, vice-president of the conservation charity Plant Heritage, at her home in Surrey.
The journey took me out of London via the A217, a road romantically known as the Sutton bypass. It's not my favourite road, since it is punctuated at regular intervals by speed cameras, traffic lights, and people who want to make inconvenient right turns, but don't always signal this intention until the very last minute.
Today, however, with the last of the autumn leaves clinging to the trees, and a low mist veiling the North Downs, it seemed positively idyllic.
The guests were a mixture of journalists and Plant Heritage people, including three National Plant Collection holders. These were Chris Lane (hamamelis, and also wisteria), Roger Parsons (lathyrus, ie sweet peas) and Michael McIllmurray (orchids). Sadly, I didn't get a chance to talk to Dr McIllmurray, but it was fascinating listening to Roger and Chris.
Chris was sitting next to me at lunch, and he was so bombarded with questions that he could hardly eat his boeuf bourguignon (served with potatoes dauphinois and carrots, and followed by apple crumble and cream. Now that's what I call a November lunch.)
National Plant Collection holders, as you might expect, are men and women with a mission. Chris Lane told us how, when he decided to specialise in witch hazels at his home in Kent, he only had an empty field and the traditional wisdom is that they prefer woodland conditions. Undeterred, he went ahead - and found that his hamamelis seemed to bloom even more prolifically in an open situation.
His nursery is wholesale only, although he does hold open days and you can find details here. Only got room for one witch hazel? Chris recommends Hamamelis x intermedia 'Pallida', which has large yellow flowers, a wonderful scent and yellow autumn leaf colour too.
Roger Parsons has worked as a gardener all his life, but it was only when he took early retirement that he was able to concentrate on his passion, sweet peas. His favourite is 'Albutt Blue', a Semi-Grandiflora variety that is white with a blue picotee edge and a wonderful scent.
Roger, like many gardeners, uses well-rotted horse manure as a fertiliser, but unlike many gardeners, his manure comes from his own horses. His wife is a keen horsewoman and she has introduced Roger - who doesn't ride - to miniature horses. They have their first mare in foal, and the new baby should be trotting around in time for the nursery open days in June.
Details of these will be posted on Roger's website. I'll be there. Wild - or indeed miniature - horses couldn't keep me away.


petoskystone said...

i want a witch hazel...wonder if they make miniature versions which do well in containers. the weather is horrible for november here...almost 6 p.m. & still in the 60s (16 C)! not. normal.

Lancashire rose said...

What a luncheon. Not just the yummy menu but the exhaled lunch guests. I have often wondered about the National collection growers, having been to several gardens with such cllections when visiting England. Hm-Now what should I collect?

Zoë said...

ohhhh horse envy - I have hankered after keeping Fallabella's forever. Still hoping to get my own + carriage one day though.

Lunch sounds delicious, I love stews of any kind with loads of veggies - but I prefer H.x intermedia 'Jelena' to 'Pallida' having both here.

Chicken muck is pretty useful stuff too :-)

patientgardener said...

remember Bob Brown telling me at a lunch once about his son deciding to have a collection of elm (I think) and laying it out in a field with gaps for those he needed all arranged alphabetically - how very organised

Victoria said...

petoskystone: I love the idea of a miniature witch hazel in a pot, but I'd have to find something to do with it for the rest of the year.

Lancashire rose: We were joking at the lunch that the trick was to find a genus such as gingko that only has a few species. Or even just one, such as Wollemia nobilis! But I think they have Rules about that sort of thing.

Zoe: Fallabellas are gorgeous, aren't they? Just like proper little horses. Roger was having great difficulty explaining to one writer that they were actually horses, and not some kind of Shetland pony. He said his were pintaloosas, the spotted ones.
You should get a couple! And you should definitely go to one of the open days.

patientgardener: ...and people think we gardeners are anoraks!

VP said...

For some strange reason I initially read your post's title as Sweet Peas in Apple Crumble and had a Gosh I didn't know they were edible moment before I realised my mistake.

It sounds like the prefect lunch though.

Victoria said...

VP: They're poisonous, aren't they? I'm not sure what they do to you - I looked it up on the internet but couldn't make head or tail of the scientific explanation.

Hanna at Orchid Care said...

This sounds like a lunch in heaven, I’m green with envy!

We live in Southern California and we call our native Witch Hazel species Winterbloom. As a matter of fact we have one growing in our side yard and it’s beginning to show its beautiful yellow blooms. I love it but never realized that it was poisonous until one of my dogs got sick and the vet determined that he must have eaten some of its flowers.

Hey Victoria. I’ve asked before but since I received no reply, I shell ask all over again.
Would you kindly add my link to your Links section as I’ve done the same for you and I frequent your blog on a regular basis. Thanks in advance.

Gail said...

Victoria, The luncheon sounds like a delicious treat~good food and great company. I have several native hamamelis and H.x intermedia "Diane'~I love them all. I think your irrelevant photo is gorgeous~gail

Céline Salisbury said...

I love your website and your garden. It is so mature, with dense foliage and multi-layered planting with that feeling of mystery behind every corner... it is great.
I have just started a real garden makeover. We have had our garden a few years and up until now I think we were just going through the motions, so we started this week by ripping out our ugly 40 metre long half dead conifer hedge.
I would love you to drop by my blog and let me know your thoughts and some advice.
Thanks in advance
PS: we have also a Russian Blue female cat and she is adorable, just like Pushkin!