Spectacular dahlias, zinnias and gladioli on show at Parham House

Gladioli at the Parham flower trials. Picture by Lawrence Smith
Gladioli at the Parham flower trials. Picture by Lawrence Smith

Visitors to Parham House and Gardens in Pulborough were treated to a special display over the Bank Holiday Weekend (August 25-28).

The estate’s flower trials are now at their peak and the Parham team decorated each room in the Elizabethan house with colourful and intricate arrangements for Friday, Sunday and Monday.

Picture by Lawrence Smith

Picture by Lawrence Smith

Using freshly cut flowers in the house has been a tradition since the 1920s when owner Alicia Pearson insisted on having flowers in every room.

People can see this spectacle until the end of summer and the gardeners recommend checking out the flower trials while it’s still warm.

This year the trials boast a dazzling variety of dahlias, zinnias and gladioli.

“Over the past few years we’ve been trialling a number of flowers with a particular emphasis on cut flowers,” said head gardener Tom Brown, speaking to the West Sussex Gazette on Friday (August 25).

The Parham flower trials. Picture by Lawrence Smith

The Parham flower trials. Picture by Lawrence Smith

“We look at plants that we use a lot of, then we want to explore them further. So we will get a large range of that particular plant, either 50 to 100 different colours, different types, and then watch them over the season. The garden team use them for arranging in the house and then assess which ones are their favourites.”

From these experiments they usually pick about 10 to 15 that they would like to grow in the future.

“The zinnias are south American,” Tom explained. “They particularly like it towards the end of the summer. All the time we’ve got sunny, dry weather, they’re quite happy.”

They have been performing since early July and will flower until the frost.

Parham head gardener Tom Brown

Parham head gardener Tom Brown

“Now they’re this riot of colour and we’ve separated them into colour bands,” Tom continued. “So all the yellow ones are together, all the oranges, the reds, the pinks, the whites and the greens.”

It’s a technique that lets the gardeners choose the plants with the strongest colours.

“When you’ve got all the red ones in a small space you can really ascertain the best of the bunch because you’re comparing like with like.”

The process is educational for the gardeners and informative for the public as well, said Tom. Each section of the trials lists the different varieties used so visitors can get the plants they want from a supplier.

Pictures by Lawrence Smith

Pictures by Lawrence Smith

“Not everybody’s got the facilities to grow 50 different types of zinnias or 100 gladioli, so I think our visitors get a lot from it.”

The gladioli trials have gone particularly well this year with some beautiful miniature gladioli coming up. These are more suitable for a homeowner’s garden (or a vase) but Parham has lots of large gladioli as well.

“It’s very subjective with the garden team and also with the visitors which ones people like,” said Tom. “But certainly for bringing late summer colour to the garden gladioli are fantastic.”

“It’s been very interesting. When you are trialling a number of different things through the summer you have an inkling as to which would get the best reaction from people. I thought the dahlias would be the thing that people would really warm to because a lot of people grow dahlias. But the reality has been that the gladioli have really captured people’s imaginations.

“They’ve been seen as quite an old fashioned plant, a 1970s plant that doesn’t really have much place in today’s gardens, but I think they’re on the up. They’re really starting to come back into fashion.”

Whatever the preferences of the gardeners or visitors, all this experimentation has resulted in an abundance of flowers to choose from.

Picture by Lawrence Smith

Picture by Lawrence Smith

“The garden team and volunteers were all out in force yesterday (Thursday, August 24) picking flowers. I think we took in the region of 70 bucketfuls up to the house.”

Seven ladies then arranged them in the Great Hall, the Long Gallery and the other rooms, with every available window space getting some sort of display as well.

They always aim for a naturalistic and open style.

“People have said that, for the Parham style, a butterfly should be able to fly between and in among the arrangements,” Tom explained.

“The flower arrangements have to match the interiors of the rooms too, so the flower arrangers will look at the tapestries and artwork, and then use inspiration from them to give them their colour palettes.”

The flowers tend to last a week before the arrangements are taken down and new ones are put in their place.

“The flowers in the house really reflect what’s going on at the garden at that time of year,” added Tom. “Towards the end of the season there might be more autumnal colours and seed heads and in spring you’ve got things like tulips.”

“It’s like a snapshot of the garden.”

To find out more about Parham, or to see the opening times and prices, click here.

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Picture by Lawrence Smith

Picture by Lawrence Smith

Picture by Lawrence Smith

Picture by Lawrence Smith