Persian Everlasting Pea

The Persian Everlasting Pea.

Lathyrus rotundifolius at Easton Walled Gardens

Lathyrus rotundifolius

‘You’ll never sell it’ said nurseryman Tim as he delivered plants for our visitors back in the day. Sure enough, by September, when all the gifted 1 litre container plants had gone to kind homes; two scraggy looking pots were left. Lathyrus rotundifolius also called the Persian everlasting pea doesn’t take kindly to being restricted in a small pot so we released them into the border along the pickery fence and rather forgot about them.

Next summer something remarkable happened. Beautiful twining stems rose from the ground and romped over the fence (politely leaving space for other climbers.) By July, the plant was smothered in pink flowers that contrasted beautifully with the foliage. It has been one of the most asked about plants in the garden ever since.

Lathyrus rotundifolius 3 Easton Walled Gardens

Habit and provenance:

Hailing from the countries around the Black Sea and into Iran, the Persian everlasting pea grows in meadows with other leguminous plants. A member of the prettily named sub-family Papilionaceae (meaning ‘butterfly–like’), it uses tendrils to climb and support itself and growth is prolific between April and June.

The flowering stems form racemes of 3+ flowers, cream in bud and darkening as the flowers open. The flower colour is often described as brick-red, although in our experience that is the colour the camera lens sees. On our plants, the petals are a deep pink with increasing blue tones as the flower ages. There is no discernable scent but that doesn’t stop the flowers being very popular with insects including bees.

Lathyrus rotundifolius lifecycle copyright Easton Walled Gardens

How to grow:

Lathyrus rotundifolius plants are totally hardy (H7 on the new RHS ratings system), herbaceous perennials and will grow in reasonable soil in full sun or dappled shade. They need something sturdy to climb (beware of swamping roses with it) and our Im fence is the perfect vehicle. If trained the plant may make 1.5m.

Despite its aversion to small pots, Lathryus rotundifolius makes a well behaved addition to large permanently planted pots. We have some outside the shop door and they climb and flop over the edge with great charm.

Lathyrus rotundifolius in container at Easton Walled Gardens

As the top growth dies back in autumn the stems can be cut back to ground level and used on the compost heap.

Mary Keen describes the roots as ‘wandering’, which is about right. Propagate from Irishman’s cuttings (a piece of stem with roots on) in late spring. The seed tends not to set in northern areas and germination can be slow.

We offer pots of this pea for sale in June and early July, if you would like to reserve one please contact the office.

Ideas for May Blossom

Towards mid-May, Easton Walled Gardens is filled with an avalanche of blossom. The early blackthorn on the hedges around our village and its’ associated weather pattern (‘a blackthorn winter’ = a spell of harsh weather while it flowers) is over for another year.

IMG_1212 blossom and cow parsley 640

Now the hawthorn hedges around the carpark and village are covered with small white blossoms arranged in clusters. The dense wood and knarled outline of a mature hawthorn trunk gives the appearance of extreme age. When the tree is festooned with blossom, the combination of age and vitality is a potent emblem of spring.

IMG_1214 hawthorn and cow parsley 640

The trees form a cascade of white that splashes onto the cow parsley below.

IMG_1257 hawthorn blossom 640

Seen in detail, there is an unexpected sophistication to these generous white flowers.

The growth rate of hawthorn trees is quite fast so they may be pruned in winter. Hedges should be pruned after flowering and, to keep it neat, again in autumn. Leaving the second pruning, will give you more flowers in spring the following year. Typically, we have a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach and opt for one late summer cut which is when the birds have finished nesting and we have time to tidy the hedge up. As you can see, we still get a smattering of flowers.

hawthorn hedge 640

Apple blossom is showing for the first time in our orchard.

IMG_1253 apple blossom 640

We have an infestation of apple capsid bug which shouldn’t affect fruit production but will lead to marks on the ripe apples; a pity, but for now we are just grateful for the first ever blossom on our young trees. The tatty foliage on the greengage trees is also caused by these little bugs. We don’t like to spray while the trees are in flower; it is far too indiscriminate and will harm pollinators like bees so we may try a wash in early spring to attack the eggs early next year. The adults will lay eggs in nooks and crannies for overwintering.

Speaking of damage to blossom, the lilac blight on the rare shrubs in the meadows, has become too serious to ignore. This is a bacterial infection and is highly localised at the moment, just confined to the lilacs in the rose meadows. Suggested treatment includes copper sulphate in late winter which we will try next year. Incidentally, Syringa vulgaris ‘Zulu’ seems the most resistant to blight.

IMG_1220 double lilac 640

This image is of a very beautiful old double lilac that survives in the gardens from 100 year old stock. At the time, lilacs symbolised the remembrance of a first love. We have established this sucker in a large tub by the entrance to the gardens. It greets visitors with its beautiful scent.

IMG_1255 crabapple blossom 640

Elsewhere in the garden things are much rosier. The crabapple blossom has turned pure white and sends showers of confetti onto the long meadow grasses and under your feet as you walk.

IMG_1240 crabapple blossom 640

Nearby, the wisteria is spectacular this year.

IMG_1245 wisteria 640

This is Wisteria floribunda ‘Burford’ taken from an original climber at Burford House in Oxfordshire. The very long racemes with dark purple and lilac pea flowers and a beautiful scent require a pilgrimage every day while they are in flower. Long whippy growth on wisterias will need pruning twice a year, once after flowering back to 3-5 buds and then again in late winter back to 2-3 buds. It is also a good idea to give them a slow release, high potash feed in Spring to boost flower production the following year. This is particularly important if you see the foliage turning pale or chlorotic later in the year suggesting it is under stress.

IMG_1252 weigela 640

For totally undemanding blossom, you could try Weigela florida which, here, is confined to some of the most unpromising parts of the garden where it is dry or in semi-shade. Completely uncomplaining on our alkaline soil it will produce corymbs of flowers on last year’s growth. Like many spring flowering shrubs, it should be pruned after flowering.

IMG_1231 viburnum opulus 640

Viburnums are excellent sources of spring blossom but the queen is really Viburnum opulus var. roseum better known as the snowball tree. The lime green buds open to become pure white and are excellent cut for the vase if you split the bottom of the stems with secateurs. Here they are in the White Space Garden.

IMG_1233 viburnum and white space garden 640

Beyond the hedge is our ‘Sakura’ moment. Sakura is the Japanese for cherry blossom and the source of a traditional Japanese folk song of Spring, the season of cherry blossom.

cherry shogetsu blossom 640

As you round the hedge alongside the velvet border, 16 cherry trees are in full bloom. Our variety is Prunus ‘Shogetsu’, chosen for the broad shape of the trees, the exquisite blossom in white and pale pink and for the later flowering period. This is one of the last of the flowering cherries to break out in all its spring glory.

IMG_1229 cherry plat 640

The great cherry, Prunus ‘Tai Haku’ is already going over at the top of the gardens. These are ornamental cherries and the glory is in their flowers. If you want fruit you will need to chose sweet cherry cultivars (usually prefixed Prunus avium) or cooking cherries (usually prefixed Prunus cerasosus.) We grow P. avium ‘Stella’ and ‘Early Rivers’ on the wall of the old peach house – they are supposed to be sweet but in our experience, are better for cooking. Our ornamental cherries will now recede into the landscape until Autumn when their leaves colour up in orange, red and yellow.


Ideas for working with tulips

We are in mid-tulip season. Tulipa ‘Albert Heijn’, one of the earliest to flower, is going over. He is a particularly luscious pink with a smoky sheen on the outer curve of the petals. His (and it probably should be ‘her’ with all that feminity but with a name like ‘Albert’ I feel compelled to stick with the masculine) foliage is a gentle grey green that matches the emerging foliage of Nepeta faassenii.

IMG_0754 Tulipa Albert Heijn with Nepeta at Easton Walled Gardens

As the flowers fade, the growth on the Nepeta picks up speed and engulfs the tatty, dying foliage of the tulip. We try and consider the effect of mounds of extraneous leaves when we plant our bulbs. Some alliums and large daffodils cultivars are the worst offenders and should be carefully sited where they won’t distract from nearby flowers in mint condition.

See how the tulipa and catmint foliage match?

Tulipa Aibert Heijn and Nepeta at Easton Walled Gardens

It took some research to come up with this combination and we will grow it every year in front of the alpine bed unless replant disease becomes a problem.

In the White Space Garden, Tulipa ‘Diana’ is in bud. Just a single, white tulip but one with a very long flowering period that means we choose her over other popular whites.

IMG_0961 white space garden tulip diana at Easton Walled Gardens

Early in her flowering she has the bed nearly to herself but as the petals fade she is joined by a chorus of silvers and whites.

EWG 28.5.15.-5 Tulip Diana flowering in the white space garden at Easton Walled Gardens

Here she is in close up:

EWG 1.5.14. Tulip Diana at Easton Walled Gardens

A new white tulip to me this year, is Tulipa ‘Exotic Emperor’, a fosteriana hybrid that I saw in pots at Coton Manor. The outer tepals streaked with green and the sumptuous creamy interior make this tulip worthy of a pot on its own.

IMG_0849 Tulipa Exotic Emperor

Another combination that I liked at Coton Manor is Tulipa Gavota with Ligularia foliage. A very fine tulip that we have used in our pickery or cut flower garden; it’s good to see it used here in a border setting.

IMG_0862 Coton Manor Gavota with ligularia

Back at home, Tulipa Ballerina is flexing her petals in the sunshine.

EWG 4.5.14.-10 tulip ballerina at Easton Walled Gardens

EWG 4.5.14.-12 tulip ballerina and wallflowers at Easton Walled Gardens

Wallflowers make an obvious complementary scheme but we do find them a bit hit and miss as we have a no-slug-pellet policy and, in a hard winter, the wallflowers may not make it. This image shows that even after the flowers are pollinated and the petals start to fade, Tulipa Ballerina is as elegant as her namesake.

IMG_0960 spring plant combinations tulip at Easton Walled Gardens

Tulips don’t need to be used formally. In our meadows and the woodland walk we use species, early and late tulips to complement the planting. Like the other tulips, these will need to be topped up every year. We order around 10,000 bulbs of which about 2,000 will be tulips.

You may also like: Spring Containers

Spring Containers

Using plants for spring containers.

After a winter of black grass, milky snowdrops and white double daisies, we have changed the planting in this terracotta pot for the technicolour flowers of spring. Blue anemones and muscari perfectly complement golden tulips. The colours are linked together in this spring container: golden tulips match the faces of the little viola and the whole is framed by white in the tulips and daisies.

Spring Container at Easton Walled Gardens IMG_0878

This pot is placed in the corner of the little meadows outside the history room.

Osmanthus burkwoodii IMG_0885

Behind, the hedge Osmanthus burkwoodii is in flower. In between squally wintry showers, the sun is strong enough to bring out the scent from the small white flowers dotted along the stems. This shrub is fairly slow growing but will eventually make a dense evergreen hedge. Osmanthus hedges should be clipped immediately after flowering.

Tulips at Easton Walled Gardens IMG_0879

Here’s a close up of the tulips. The purple white tall tulip is Tulipa ‘Blueberry Ripple.’ We have grown this for a few years (always from new bulbs each spring.) It is particularly good for pot work.

The golden apricot tulip is Tulipa praestans ‘Shogun.’ Usefully, it starts to flower just before the main tulip season. It’s distinctive feature is that it is multi-headed, so the flowers in the bottom left hand corner of the picture join to one stem. Those that were left in large containers for a second year didn’t manage to make big enough bulbs so they only have one flower.

Anemone blanda IMG_0882

Anemone blanda is, perhaps, a surprising choice for a pot but it has proved to be excellent. The clean blue-violet petals (for the botanically minded they are actually sepals) surround the yellow stamens which makes them very satisfying to look at. (Hence the latin name; blanda = charming.) Peeping out from their foliage is the double daisy Bellis perennis which has been in the pot for some time, flowering all the way from February to April without complaining.

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Nestling into the foliage near the bottom of the pot is fritillaria meleagris. We have trouble with this beauty but are trying to get it established in the meadow along the river. Lily beetle, pheasants and slugs all like the taste. We grow a few in pots each year and then transplant them after flowering to the river meadow (also known as the ‘soggy meadow’ because it floods regularly.) We haven’t had great success but here’s a white form that survived this year so I am going to persevere.

white fritillary at Easton Walled Gardens IMG_0890

Look at how elegantly the narrow leaves frame the flower; they swirl around the flower like a courtier doffing his cap.

Speaking of elegance, I wanted to include this picture of some of our very old daffodils in this meadow.

Narcissus barrii cv at Easton Walled Gardens IMG_0892

We split the bulbs last year (after flowering but before they died right back) and have been rewarded with ten times the number of flowers this year.

Back to the pot, this scheme doesn’t need a huge container to work. Here are the same flowers, with a change of tulips (Tulipa ‘Apricot Beauty’), in much smaller pots outside the tearoom.

Spring containers at Easton Walled Gardens IMG_0901

In this arrangement, the muscari are more prominent. This is Muscari latifolium (which could be loosely interpreted as a ‘musky grape hyacinth with broad leaves.’) Like Tulipa praestans ‘Shogun’ it flowers at a very useful time; after the big hyacinths but before the main tulip season. In the pickery we have combined it with the acid green flowers of Smyrnium perfoliatum (this time the latin means ‘pierced leaf’ – you can see that the stem appears to go straight through the leaf)

Smyrnium perfoliatum in the pickery at Easton Walled Gardens IMG_0888

Here is Smyrnium on its own in the cottage garden sheltering under Rosa ‘Cottage Garden’ while we get on with jobs in the sunshine. It’s the epitome of the bright green new growth of spring.

Smyrnium perfoliatum at Easton Walled Gardens IMG_0897

Snowdrop Facts

Snowdrops at Easton Walled Gardens

10 interesting snowdrop facts

Snowdrops feature heavily at Easton Walled Gardens from late January until mid March. Around 3,000 people visit us to see the snowdrop display each year.

We get asked a lot of questions about our snowdrops and here are our top 10 favourite answers and facts:

When do snowdrops flower?

According to the old proverb: “The snowdrop in purest white array, first rears her head on Candlemas Day.” (2 February)

Snowdrops at Easton Walled Gardens

How many species and varieties of snowdrop are there?

  • There are 18-19 species of Snowdrops (Galanthus) and more than 500 named varieties.

What do ‘Galanthus’ and ‘Snowdrop’ mean?

  • The Species name Galanthus comes from the Greek: ‘Gala’ meaning milk and ‘Anthos’ meaning flower.
  • In the 19 century, a Dr. Prior wrote that the common name cannot mean snowdrop since ‘snow is a dry powdery substance that cannot form a drop.’ (I suspect the good doctor was also a train spotter in his spare time.)

It is more likely the name comes from the pearl drop earrings worn by women in the 16th and 17th centuries, as in the painting ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’

snowdrops with water at Easton Walled Gardens

How to grow snowdrops

  • The best way to divide snowdrops is to lift a group every second year as the leaves start to yellow in late spring; split all the bulbs and then plant them separately with a pinch of bonemeal in the hole.
  • The flower is formed in the bulb the previous March and waits nearly a whole year before pushing through the soil.
  • On a sunny day, snowdrops are highly scented and give off a honey smell. If you have enough plants the perfume will fill the garden. Mix them with crocus, aconites and cyclamen coum for a colourful display.

Life saving properties

Snowdrops contain their own anti-freeze proteins. Snowdrop plants were harvested during the First World War to make anti-freeze for tanks.

Lady Elphinstone at Easton Walled Gardens

Collecting snowdrops

  • Snowdrop collectors and enthusiasts are called ‘Galanthophiles’ not to be confused with Snowdropping which is an entirely different type of fetish (apparently.)
  • Such is their enthusiasm that a single bulb Galanthus plicatus ‘Golden Fleece’ sold on ebay for £1,390 last year. The bulb had taken Joe Sharman 10 years to develop and was a record price for a snowdrop.

For more information on our open days please see our snowdrop pages on the main website.

Copyright Ursula Cholmeley.

October stories


It’s been a busy start to Autumn.

Marie Curie talkLast week, Chris Young and I were at the Stamford Arts Centre to give a talk in aid of Marie Curie. I talked about the gardens and its 400 year old history and he talked about being the editor of the world’s largest garden magazine (RHS The Garden.) As you can see he knows how to hold an audience.

Strange, there were plenty of people there when I spoke….:)

Actually, it was a lovely evening, with lots of questions and the dedicated committee raised nearly £2,000 for Marie Curie. We were delighted to have been a part of it.




Then on to Burghley House.

Alexandra, our florist, created a stunning display in the Black and Yellow Room as part of their Shakespearean flower festival.  We represented the Hidden England Group with a floral extravaganza based on Othello. What initially seemed like a tall order became a great play to interpret and Alexandra wove meaning and pathos into her beautiful design. As the weather has been so mild, most of the flowers came from our gardens. To be working in natural materials, in an Elizabethan palace next to this extraordinary bed with its intricate embroidery, was deeply life enhancing.

Easton Walled Gardens flowers at Burghley HouseIMG_3743

flower festival at Burghley House

With all my attention focused outside the gardens this week, it was lucky the boys were still hard at it.

meadow maintenance

The meadows are now cut and are being cleared. The old season is passing and a new one arriving. The hay is bundled into a huge pile to rot down before returning to the gardens as mulch.

In the flower beds, the continuing mild weather has given our late bloomers the chance to show us what they can really do.

Perilla  The Pickery at Easton Walled Gardens

Particularly, TITHONIA!  When I posted on twitter that we had finally had success with this tender annual there was a certain amount of bemusement. ‘What’s taken you so long?’ asked @UltingWick.

Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’  (see below) likes a sheltered spot, good soil and a mild spring – none of which we could supply when we first started on the garden restoration. Building up the beds by lining them with boards to allow a greater depth of soil has had an impact throughout the gardens. We added large amounts of organic matter, repositioned our late summer plants and here is our reward.

Tithonia and Ricinus

Tithonia rotundifolia 'Torch'If these fresh colours in the borders and pickery make us feel that the season will go on forever, there are other reminders of change. This creeper (below) needs to be cut to the ground every two years or it will swamp the building. We grow it for the ephemeral display of deep red it gives us now.

Nearer to the ground, Colchicum ‘Waterlily’ is making its annual appearance in fine grass. This double flowered variety is particularly good as it tends to flop more elegantly than its single relations.

Colchicum Waterlily

The ultimate symbol of an Autumn walled garden has to be ripening pears. It’s a waiting game. One misty day they will give off that golden sweetness that tells us, and the late wasps, that they are finally ready. I will probably eat far too many and feel a bit ill. (I hope the wasps do too.)

Ripening Pears at Easton Walled Gardens

A September Walk

At dawn this morning, mist hung in the paddocks and parkland around our little village. A white haze appeared above the trees and slowly golden rays began to slant through the branches.

September light at Easton

I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to follow the light as it hit the gardens, so I took the dogs (all four of them) and we started in the Pickery. Or we would have done. If Binky the dachshund hadn’t spotted Sue and her daughter, Laura, in the village. Binky is deeply in love with our neighbours and as the light came just right, I realised I was a dog short. Binky’s squeaky bark echoed from the village. This high pitched bark means she is overwhelmed to find someone she loves, who, in her opinion, has nothing better to do than be her best friend. So, I went back (twice) to retrieve the errant sausage dog and ‘persuade’ her to join us.

With all four dogs safely secure in the Pickery, I could focus on the flowers and take some pictures.

dahlias at Easton Walled Gardens

In the long narrow bed alongside the path through the Pickery, the dahlias looked perfect with drops of dew hanging from candy coloured flowers.

Opposite the dahlias are our two cutflower beds. The plants are raised from seed every year and this is the best time to appreciate the colours of late flowering annuals. Here you can see a profusion of Nicotianas, Cosmos, Amaranths, Zinnia and Clary. In the foreground tawny rudbeckias and a single deep pink Cleome has crept into the shot.

The Pickery in September at Easton Walled Gardens

On the other side of this grass path are our sweet pea beds. The sweet peas have stopped flowering and have run to seed. The pods have their own beauty while they hang on bleached stems. They will soon be harvested by us to be sown next year or go into packets for selling to visitors as part of the 65 varieties we offer in our  online shop.

Sweet pea pods at Easton Walled Gardens

Out of the pickery; ‘come on dogs, we are going to the Cottage Garden’.

The Pickery in Autumn Easton Walled Gardens

(Binky still wants to go back to Sue…)

In the cottage garden the three sister’s bed of beans, courgettes and corn on the cob looks wonderful but the greenhouse is a bit damp: we will need to get the airflow moving to prevent the mildew getting any worse. It’s a hard choice for greenhouse grown plants. Do we maximise warmth over airflow or spray over organic produce? There hardly seems any point to growing your own if it is covered with chemicals.

Greenhouse Easton Walled Gardens

Inside the air is very still but the tomatoes are beginning to ripen.

in the greenhouse at Easton Walled Gardens

We head out now, under the tall peach house wall and into the wider garden. Here the terraces are filled with seedheads where the goldfinches are chattering and feeding. Over 100 finches have spent the last few days feeding on the knapweed which makes me very proud as you rarely saw a single goldfinch here 10 years ago.


The giraffes watch over us as we pass through the cedar meadow.

Giraffe at Easton Walled Gardens

We swing back across the lawns and stop at the White Space Garden to see how the colour is holding up. There have been white flowers here for six months solid. The Eleagnus in the centre holds all the different shapes and hues together in this scheme. The silvery leaves absorb any friction between plant forms. It’s very satisfying to see this come together as it was ten years in the planning (nothing happens fast around here)


The day is getting on, so there is no time to visit the long borders, roses and orchard now. The dogs have had a good run so we head back towards the gate out of the garden. Guess who is there first? Can we go and see Sue again now, please??

Binky at the gate


Something new in the Gardens

Our new sculpture is unveiled!

Every year our lovely Friends of Easton Walled Gardens sign up for a season ticket and other benefits. Although the funds raised from these memberships are a part of the garden’s income, we like to ring-fence some of this money to spend directly enhancing the visitor’s experience.

So far the Friends have helped buy the green oak for the vegetable garden, repair the old greenhouses and buy local trees for the orchard. We thought you might like to know that Continue reading “Something new in the Gardens”

Rare Find in The Rose Meadow

We’ve finally struck gold.. or maybe purple!

No species has come to represent the destruction of the UK’s native meadows more than the orchid. Since the second world war, when permanent pasture was dug up for crops and then sprayed into sterility with herbicides, this beautiful plant has vanished from great swathes of our countryside.

So, when we started our meadows from scratch over 10 years ago, native orchids became key target plants. They were unlikely to occur until we had all the ingredients of a flourishing meadow in place. If we could introduce orchids we would know that we had increased plant biodiversity significantly.

EWG 28.5.15.-23 Meadow

Orchids can’t be persuaded to grow where it doesn’t suit them naturally. You can’t raise them from seed in John Innes compost. They need the right soil and the right fungi to be present to germinate.

For the last 10 years we have been begging seed from wildlife sites. We have been given masses of advice and generous amounts of hay from old meadows. The seed has fallen from the hay, been blown from our hands or pressed into the soil. But it is still a guessing game – the orchids will decide for themselves whether or not they deign to make a meadow their home.

Rare Orchid Blog Triptic Easton Walled Gardens

So you can imagine the thrill of seeing not just one rosette of possible orchid leaves appear but seven beautiful, deep purple/pink flowering spikes appear in the Rose Meadow about a fortnight ago.

And, astonishingly, it’s not just orchids that are appearing in the developing meadows. Rare sulphur clover has been found on the terraces, the most northerly known location of this species. Vetches are straggling through establishing crops of yellow rattle and the blue butterflies are growing in number.

Easton Walled Gardens Meadow

Over the next few months our terrace meadows are growing, flowering and providing homes and nectar for a great diversity of insects. The swallows and other insect feeding birds swoop down on this abundance.

We mow paths through the long flowering grasses, knapweed and blue scabious so that you can see the miniature details of life that make an English meadow so precious.

To learn more about meadows and wild flowers, see our guide: Top Five Wild Garden Heroes