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Blotanical Awards 2009

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Plant of the Centenary

Before I think about my “plant of the centenary” I must say a BIG THANK YOU to everyone who left a comment on my last post Garden Bloggers Question.  All of you who took the time to leave a comment came up with a wonderful array of suggestions and thoughts for our front garden. Simply brilliant.  Sadly, my troublesome head is still playing up making computer life and non computer life generally rubbish, but … (fingers crossed) the medication seems to be kicking in now, so I just need to get my “oomph” back and then everything will be fine and dandy.

VP asked us to think about our plant of the centenary as this year is the RHS Centenary Show, this post was supposed to go up last week, but along with my troublesome head, I really had difficulty in making up my mind so I am glad that I am not Roy Lancaster or one of his experts!

Like Angie, peony was one of the plants that came to mind – particularly Paeonia lactiflora “Bowl of beauty” AGM. I have three in this garden, and I love them.

Helen went for Ashwood Hellebores – which is also a plant that was high on my list, as I do adore hellebore, and the breeding that has been done by John Massy has produced some delightful cultivars.

Bren chose Tulips, yet another of the plants high on my list, and the one I would have chosen is t. Orange Favourite, which is totally over the top and smells divine I think it is from the 1930’s so eligible for the plant of the centenary. Sadly I decided in the Autumn to give myself a “year off from tulips” so there will be no orange Favourites here this year.


I toyed with the grasses and “prairie plants” but I suspect that they are rather “fashionable” and will not necessarily stand the test of time – in a few years will someone looking at my garden find it dated and liken it to the dwarf confers and heathers that were so prevalent in the 1970’s.

So, what have I decided upon? well it is the sweet pea. I know the original sweet pea is at least 2 centuries too old, but there are newer varieties!

Purportedly the earliest sweet pea seeds arrived in England in 1699 they were sent by a sicillian monk to among other people Robert Uvedale of Enfield and is known as Cupani named after the monk. Compared to some sweet peas available today it was perhaps small and modest, but it did have that wonderful sweet pea scent, and what a legacy! It is from this flower that all our modern sweet peas are descended.

Sweet pea breeding continued and by the mid 1800’s “sweet peas” became established. Henry Eckford is perhaps the father of sweet peas as we know them today. From 1879 and for the next few years Eckford perfected his breeding of sweet peas and established the Grandiflora strains, or the “Old fashioned” varieties.  The next big break-through in sweet peas was the introduction of the Spencer varieties. Silas Cole loved sweet peas and grew a lot of the Eckford varieties  He worked as a gardener for the Spencer family one of his plants had flowers that were bigger and had a wavy edge – and so Countess Spencer was born, it was first shown in 1901. At around the same time William Unwin also discovered a frilly form in the flowers he grew for cut flowers. Unwins seeds still today develop and breed sweet peas for our gardens.

So the sweet pea evolved from the simple “Cupani” through the elegant grandifloras to the frilly spencers, in the 20’s and 30’s we had ripples and flakes. Now we have modern grandifloras, which are bred from the victorian grandiflora sweet peas, keeping the stunning scent of the originals but generally have more abundant flowers together with the long stems of the spencer types.

That is a (very) potted history of the sweet pea and now what do I chose for my plant of the centenary. Obviously to fit with the allotted time span, it will have to be a modern cultivar. Oh but which one? So I am going for 2 which will look well grown together Sweet pea “Fire and Ice” together with Sweet Pea “Almost black”. It would appear that I didn’t take any pictures of sweet peas last year, so you will have to take my word for it – they are very pretty. So instead I am showing you a random bunch of sweet peas from last year.


Sadly although I cannot have sweet peas in my house – I do pick bunches of them for the garden tables and market.  They seem to bring such pleasure to the people who see them and that is why they are my plant of the centenary.


19 comments to Plant of the Centenary

  • VP

    Karen – what a great choice! Wem in Shropshire has a sweet pea festival every year in honour of Harry Eckford. I particularly like the dark purple forms, so I feel like you’ve picked that bunch especially for me :)

    Thanks for joining in – it’s been such fun. I have another idea, but it’ll have to wait until next year. Don’t let me forget!

    I hope that medicine is definitely kicking in and you’re felling tippity top again soon.


    • Karen - An Artist's Garden

      Ah well – consider this a bunch of sweet peas for you – (Am I right in thinking to day is a “special” day! :) )
      I will certainly remind you that you have another idea next year. I enjoyed doing this put it certainly put the little grey cells through their paces thinking then rejecting plant after plant!

  • I think this is an excellent choice for plant of the centenary, Karen. Gorgeous colours, fragrance, flowers like gangbusters…what’s not to love? (unless you’re allergic).

    • Karen - An Artist's Garden

      Jodi – how lovely to catch up with you and thank you.
      Sadly I am rather allergic to sweet peas as long as they remain in the garden – their fleeting scent is a delight, but to have them is close proximity courts disaster! However, I would not be without them they sing summer!

  • Ah yes, sweet peas definitely stand the test of time. I can’t bring them into the house either, as their heady scent sends my husband into a storm of tissues and streaming eyes, but I still slip them into the garden and they will always be one of my childhood-garden memories too. I’ve rarely grown named varieties, but this year have some Mollie Rilstone (which I bought for last year, but spring was rather a disaster for us then).

    • Karen - An Artist's Garden

      Not streaming eyes in my case but a tight chest and no breath! Sweet peas and hyacinths – but actually I dont like hyacinths one iota so that’s OK :)
      Mollie Rilsone looks really pretty – wont it be lovely when we have summer flowers on our blogs instead of freezing tips of plants!

  • Hi Karen. What a brilliant choice. My fave and I can’t wait to be able to pick some this year. What a shame yo can’t bring them indoors. I have hayfever but fortunately I’m not affected by sweetpeas. I’ve just sown some ‘Fire and Ice’. Hope you feel better soon. WW x

    • Karen - An Artist's Garden

      Thank you wellywoman glad you liked my choice and I shall look forward to comparing notes on “Fire and Ice” in the summer – although I still have to sow my seeds yet … it just doesn’t feel like seed sowing weather.
      (Note to self sow sweet peas by end of the week)
      (2nd note to self, put them where mice wont eat them)

  • Dobby

    Good choice. Those brain cells must have been working hard to make a final decision. I really don’t think I could. Glad the medication is finally kicking in.

  • A great choice Karen – the scent can’t be beaten. I like your combo. I have normally sown some sweet peas by now so will have to get them in as soon as I get home. Hope that your va va boom soon returns. Take care xxxx

  • VP

    Hi Karen – you are correct – very well remembered, thank you :)

  • Great choice – and such a beautiful shot that I can almost smell them… I haven’t planted any for this year, and my normal pots are full of other things. Must rectify this immediately!

  • Such a lovely choice and you have reminded me to sow my seeds, many thanks! It must be so difficult to choose just one plant for your plant for the centenary, I would be really hard pushed to narrow it down to one. Hope you soon feel back to normal and that your new medication works.

  • So beautiful your pictures are! I’m so glad I stopped by as you’ve reminded me I need to plant sweet pea! Simply gorgeous!

  • Now that is a good choice, definite score on the longevity – though I hope at least some grasses become long-term stalwarts – and who can resist the scent? Which reminds me, I still haven’t sown any yet. Blast. And why on earth are you “giving” yourself a tulip-free year? That sounds like a punishment rather than a gift…

  • I don’t know enough to choose a plant but sweet peas are lovely both to look at and to smell. Trouble is, go anywhere near them and I dissolve into sneezing. Often can’t cope with them even in the open air.

    Heads and hearts can be a pain – but it would be a worse pain if we were without them. Hope you get yours back in line soon.


  • Hi Karen! The random bunch is gorgeous! I love sweet peas too. Didn’t do very well in my garden last year though? Still not sure why since they seemed to be fine everywhere else?!

  • I feel so rude at taking so long to visit this post. No excuse except lack of online time!
    Thanks for the mention.
    I have never tried growing sweet peas before but on the back of your nomination I am going to try source these as plants and give them a go.

  • Karen,
    Indeed a great choice, though I have spend my entire lives amongst sweet peas, my parents were quite fond of them and were excellent breeders also, so a riot of colors and sweet and mesmerizing smell of these plants has been one of the fondest memories of my childhood. Now, I am sure, my children also feel the same, when they play in our garden.

    I thank you for choosing this amazing plant for this honor. One thing more, I never knew about the history and Italian origins of this plant, thanks for updating also.