Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Sweet Pea

An idea or a question can lead you on a journey. This week I began to wonder if I could find a Sweet Pea story. My sweet pea seeds, sown in a pot outside the kitchen door, are just producing their first flower and I felt excited about that.SONY DSC

So I asked myself: are there any Sweet Pea legends? Trying to find an answer, I came across tales about many other flowers. So far as the Sweet Pea is concerned, however, the answer was No.

Yet the process of trying to track down a Sweet Pea story (storytellers do enjoy quests!) did bring one odd little connection with traditional tales. It led me to learn something new about Wem, the small town in Shropshire which is the home of Mythstories.  Mythstories is a museum of stories. I have told stories in it myself – and, incidentally, it’s also where, unless they’ve been moved in the last little while, the Society for Storytelling archives are housed.

So here’s my Sweet Pea journey:

My Sweet Pea journey started in Sicily back in 1699 when a monk called Franciscus Cupani was writing a Flora of Sicily. In that year, he sent some seeds of Lathyrus odoratus (that’s the Latin name for the Sweet Pea) to various institutions and plant collectors.

Some of Cupani’s seeds arrived in Britain. Here they were received by a Dr Robert Uvedale who lived in Enfield in Middlesex and in the following years he began creating some new Sweet Pea varieties from them. Then, in the 19th century, much more started to happen when, in 1888, a gardener called Henry Eckford set up his own nursery. With that nursery, he dedicated the rest of his life to improving and expanding the small number of varieties of Sweet Pea that by then existed. 

And where was Henry Eckford’s nursery? In Wem in Shropshire.

So that’s my little journey. Another delight it contained was this. While tracking on the Internet the Sweet Pea’s history, I was fascinated to learn that there actually exists a library of sweet peas. It’s near Maldon in Essex and it’s called Seedlynx.

Sweet Pea (2)Of course, being a lover of books and stories, I am entranced by the very idea of a library of flowers. Friends of mine who have lovely gardens have talked to me over the years about how a garden can become a place of memories: in every year and every season, it reminds you of all the friends who have given you plants and cuttings. I often think of my own garden in precisely such a way.

But now I shall have that  ‘library of flowers’ image too whenever I go out there. I shall file it in my mind alongside that other idea of a library which is enshrined in an African proverb. We quoted the proverb at the front of my story-collection, Time For Telling. It says:  ‘When an old person dies, it is as if a whole library of memories has gone up in flames.’

P.S. My top Sweet Pea picture is a stock one from the Internet. But the bottom one is my very own Sweet Pea on the verge of coming out.


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4 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ Sweet Pea”

  1. Jean Says:

    Thank you for your blogs Mary – they often inspire memories for me. Sweet Peas, Sweet Williams and Roses – my Worcestershire farm Granny grew these in a huge garden and my job as a child when i stayed there was to cut the flowers ( certain length and blooms just beginning to open ) and tie them neatly into bunches. Then the scary bit – shaking each bunch to remove the hornie golachs (earwigs). The flowers were packed in boxes and went off to market. I was paid a few pence and felt very proud. Sweet Peas Sweet Williams and Roses now forever remind me of my Granny and summers on the Worcestershire farm. Found this little scottish rhyme – author unknown –
    The hornie golach’s an awesome beast,
    Souple an’ scaley;
    He has twa horns an’ a hantle o’ feet
    An’ a forky tailie.

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Jean, love the Scottish rhyme, the words are so evocative and wonderfully strange to my ears. And I can see why your Worcestershire Granny and her Sweet Peas must be so memorable to you. Thanks very much for writing.

  3. Fiona Says:

    Mary, do you know that the Eckford Sweet Pea Society holds a Sweet Pea Show in Wem every year? Unfortunately, this year it took place on the same weekend as Festival at the Edge, but maybe next year storytellers who love sweet peas will be able to go to both.
    Here’s their website:

  4. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Fiona, thanks so much for picking up on the Sweet Pea theme. The show sounds great – Sweet Peas definitely are my favourite summer flower. Maybe it’ll be possible to get there next year. Hope so.

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