A bunch of 10 sweet pea stems were valued at ?50 each in a national competition held at Capel Manor College, Enfield, north London on Saturday, 5 July 2014.? Keith Thompson of Guilden Morden, Hertfordshire, secured the ?500 first prize in Mr Fothergill’s national sweet pea competition, which attracted entries from as far afield as Ross-shire, Co Tyrone and Cornwall.

The winner originally grew sweet peas as a schoolboy, presenting his mother with the first bunch he ever cut.? He took up the hobby again 15 years ago.? This year he has grown 18 varieties in his garden, where he nets the plants to protect against pollen beetles. ?He pinches off the tendrils and side shoots to encourage large blooms and long stems.? Keith lists Mr Fothergill’s Gwendoline and Alan Titchmarsh as his two favourite varieties.? ?He puts his success down to the incorporation of plenty of farmyard manure into his soil and the addition of blood, fish and bone fertiliser just prior to setting out his young plants, after which he waters them regularly, but does not feed them again.

While Keith won the class for entries submitted in person on the day, there was also a ?500 first prize for the best postal entry, which was won by Margaret Smith of Burton on Trent, Staffordshire.? Mr Fothergill’s Pim Dickson, who devised the postal method using a two-litre plastic soft drinks bottle to ensure safe transit of blooms, said he was really pleased at the good condition in which they all arrived.? “Not one of the 34 postal entries was damaged”, he commented.

There were similar on-the-day and postal categories for schools, which were won by Priory Junior School, Bicknacre, Chelmsford and All Saints Primary School, Youlgrave, Derbyshire respectively.? Each received a first prize of ?500.

The judges for the competition were John Fothergill of Mr Fothergill’s, gardening writer Peter Seabrook MBEand Stephen Dowbiggin OBE, principal of Capel Manor College.? Entries were judged on their overall appeal.

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