Many of you know that I while I do enjoy a G&T on a hot summer’s day, I am also a devotee of a non-alcoholic spirit called Seedlip Garden made from distilled peas and other wonderful botanicals.
So no surprise then, that when I was at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show I made my way to the Space to Grow Gardens to see The Seedlip Garden. In 2017 designer Dr Catherine MacDonald, Lead Designer for Landform Consultants, was awarded a Gold Medal in the Artisan Garden Category for the first garden she created for Seedlip’s founder Ben Branson.
This year Catherine and the Landform team took the garden pea (Pisum sativum) to another dimension with a garden filled with plants all from the pea family Fabaceae. And ‘fab’ it was: a tour de force of a garden celebrating three (dare I make the usual pea pun here?) peaple who had and have put the pea centre and foreground in their lives.
The first of these pea enthusiasts was Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics. Focusing for seven years on the pea and experimenting on over 28,000 plants, he established the basic principles of heredity. It seems neatly serendipitous that before Catherine retrained as a garden designer, she worked in genetics.
The second pea pioneer celebrated is Dr Calvin Lamborn (1933–2017). His name may not be familiar to everyone, but it is from his traditional non-GMO breeding work on his Idaho farm that we have the sugar snap pea that is so delicious to eat raw and cooked. It is also available in a range of colours (green, yellow, maroon and purple).
His son, Rod Lamborn, a New York cinematographer, is carrying on the company business, and at Chelsea he pointed out the as-yet unnamed pea MSP81. Its tendrils are more leaf-like than the usual pea tendrils, almost replicating the plant. At Calvin’s Peas there is already a sought-after range of seed sold for the greens, including Lamborn Snap-Greens and Petite Snap-Greens). Rod explained that this new plant was totally edible, like the other snap-greens, chopped fresh into salads or cooked.
The third pea person that this garden salutes is of course Ben Branson, Lincolnshire pea farmer and inventor of Seedlip, the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirit, which is for drinking “when you are not drinking”.
Ben’s experimentation with distillation was showcased in the garden created by Catherine in 2017. Ben’s family have been in farming for centuries and growing peas for the past couple of generations. His interest in producing a drink from peas was kick-started when he came across a copy of The Art of Distillation published in 1651.
And the Seedlip Garden 2018? Well there were garden peas a-plenty and more. It was as fresh as a garden pea and complete with a pea-green Peavilion, rimmed and round stepping stones that held quantities of dried, split peas all kept in place by beautiful pea-themed steel covers made by Outdoor Design. Even the roof of the Peavilion was green with a crop of peas establishing on it.
The Pea Family truly had its day at Chelsea represented by annuals and perennials, shrubs and trees. Naturally among the annuals and perennials there were perennial sweet peas, lupins (they were the stand-out plants at Chelsea), broad beans, clover, baptisia, galega and fenugreek. The trees, including the carob (Ceratonia siliqua) and sophora (Styphnolobium japonicum), provided height and flower or pod colour, lifting the garden from the low growth level of the garden pea. So eat your garden peas and know that many plants in the pea family are also wonderful providers of food for garden pollinators.
It was a thrill to be at the Seedlip Garden when they received the news that the garden had won a Gold Medal. And joy of joys … on Press Day Ben Branson served cooling, non-alcoholic glasses of Seedlip Garden… ap-pea-ling indeed!
I’ve given up tryng to grow peas because there is too much competition for the pods from the mice.
Hi Julia, I guess nearly all gardening is a bit of a battle. I haven’t lost any pods to mice recently, but high-climbing snails are a problem. I don’t grow a huge crop of peas, but I do have several pots grown specifically for pea shoots, which I am harvesting regularly now for my daily salads.
This was one of the gardens I wrote I was going to feature in my Chelsea press pass application. I must have worked for the other Lincolnshire pea farmer as a student. They had 1,500 acres of peas in Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire and I also had to chop up 10 tonne blocks of ice from Grimsby to keep the peas cool on their way to the Birds Eye factory. I also remember in A Level biology being given Mendel’s original data and being asked (via some helpful questions) to come up with the same conclusions as he had.
I like the look of MSP81. I grow a lot of pea shoots for our winter salads and they look the very thing for that 🙂
Michelle, you were missed at Chelsea and I am sure your proposed article would have been a great read, given your background knowledge and work experience as a student on a pea farm. I checked the website eatmorepeas.com and hope to see the new snap-green pea listed there in time. Like you, I have several pots of peas on the go over winter, growing them for their tendrils, which make that extra fresh taste in my salads and they also look interesting among the flat, yet colourful salad leaves.
That was fascinating – who would have thought that you could distill peas! When you mentioned that it started with a book published in the 1600’s, I wasn’t surprised at all – there is a lot to be learned from how past generations did things. We often think that we know it all, but I feel that for everything we now know, just as much has been forgotten.