Sweetest of blooms

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SUMMER will be in the air with a celebration of sweet peas.

Heighley Gate Nursery and Garden Centre near Morpeth is staging a Sweet Pea Festival to help customers learn more about the flowers and choose the best varieties for them.

The event begins on Saturday and will run until Sunday, March 13.

Centre General Manager Roger Wale said: “Throughout the week we will be highlighting one of the most beautiful and quintessentially British annual flowers, sweet peas.

“We can help any visitors choose what type of sweet pea would suit them and give them details on how to care for them so that they get an abundance of colour in their gardens this summer.

“We will have lots of sweet pea seeds and young plants in stock for the event and visitors can take home a free advice leaflet while stocks last.”

The plant’s history in the UK goes back to the 17th Century when Sicilian monk Father Cupani sent some seeds to English schoolmaster and horticulturist Dr Robert Uvedale.

The flowers proved popular and hundreds of new varieties were created in the 19th Century.

Mr Wale said: “Once cultivated in Britain, the new plant became an instant hit, with its outstanding scent, pretty flowers and attractive climbing habit.

“The original sweet pea was dark purple. Throughout the 18th century, although numerous colour mutations occurred, the flowers remained small and the stems short and weak.

“All this changed when Scottish nurseryman Henry Eckford bred the grandiflora strain, which, while retaining the original lovely scent, had larger flowers in a wider range of colours.”

Eckford achieved lasting fame when his pink Prima Donna mutated at Althorp, seat of the Earls of Spencer, in 1901 and became the forerunner of countless new varieties, known as Spencer types.

The sweet pea festival will run at Heighley Gate, off the A697, during normal centre opening hours.