Celebrating the pea at RHS Chelsea

Southampton-born Dr Catherine MacDonald is again designing a Chelsea garden for Seedlip – creators of the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirits.

It will be the first time a garden has been designed for Chelsea using plants solely from one family, Fabaceae (pea). Fabaceae is the third largest family with nearly 20,000 species including peas, beans, lupins and clover, with ornamental plants, edibles and even trees.

But why the pea?

Seedlip founder Ben Branson’s family has over 300 years of farming history and they’re experienced pea growers. Their Garden 108 spirit is a floral blend of hand-picked peas and homegrown hay, so for Chelsea 2018, Ben wanted to celebrate the pea.

He and Catherine are working with the Lambourn family in Idaho because Dr Calvin Lambourn bred the original sugar snap pea in Idaho. They visited in December 2017 and brought back a big bag of various pea varieties that Hook nursery Hortus Loci are now growing for the show.

We caught up with Catherine on a visit to Hortus Loci to see how her pea plants were getting on.

She explained that her Chelsea garden is inspired by three families – the Branson’s, Lambourn’s and Mendels.

“My background is in field of genetics and the father of genetics, Gregor Mendel did all his early breeding experiments on peas so when I was doing the design I linked back to some of the science side. It’s set out in a four by four grid – a results section of when you’re recording what’s happened after a plant cross and you’re looking at two different traits such colour and wrinkledness. There’s only 16 possible results so I have this grid that’s going to be subtly reflected in the planting.”

It’s not just the planting that will relate to peas.

“I’m doing a ‘peavilion’ with a pea lawn on the roof and the paving stepping stones in the garden are a blue/green toned limestone and circular, representing the form of the pea.”

“We’ve also got pots filled with liquid dyed with sweet pea flowers – they’re used in cocktails for dying purple and red. We also have audio and olfactory things relating to the pea.”

The garden will be a true celebration of the pea in sight, sound, smell and form.

With a gold medal at the 2017 Chelsea Flower Show, the Seedlip/Dr Catherine MacDonald garden will be one to look out for.