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  • Parham House & Gardens will be closed from the 14th October and will re-open on Sunday 12th April 2020

Blog and News

Cultivating chard and cut flowers in our Glorious Gardens

3rd July 2019

In the latest instalment of our People behind Parham series, we speak to Parham Gardener, Max Crisfield to find out more about tending to our glorious gardens.

Now in his fifth year at Parham, Max looks after a number of areas within the Walled Garden including the Cut Flower borders, the Exotic Garden and the Vegetable Garden as well as Parham’s collection of pelargoniums and heliotropes. This time of year is one of the busiest for Max as the team prepare the cut flowers for the displays throughout the House and harvest the wide selection of vegetables grown.

“This season we have planted roughly 1000 annuals in the Cutting Garden. We also have a dedicated dahlia bed with over 30 varieties for cutting, and a new alstromeria bed with five new varieties. We currently cut 25 buckets of fresh flowers a week, which are used by the flower team to work their magic and create the beautiful displays throughout the House.”

Enclosed by deep green clipped box hedges, the vegetable beds at Parham provide produce for both the family and the Big Kitchen restaurant.

“With a formal layout of large box parterres and open beds, Parham’s Vegetable Garden is designed in quite a special way. Each square parterre has a mix of vegetables as well as herbs and cut flowers, all planted together in a distinct colour theme. This year we have a pink and white bed of cosmos, Ammi majus and Swiss chard; a bed of yellow climbing beans, African marigolds, green amaranthus and cavolo nero kale; and a tropical themed bed of dark-leaved cannas, curly red kale, Mexican sunflowers and scarlet zinnias.

We don’t tend to grow heritage or heirloom varieties in the Vegetable Garden, as, in our experience, they don’t provide the consistency or yield that we would like. Instead we play it fairly safe with tried and tested AGM cultivars that we know are going to produce the goods. What’s probably most unusual about the planting is the style – I can’t imagine there are many other gardens that have six different varieties of amaranthus in their veg plot or Mexican sunflowers and cannas rubbing shoulders with curly kale and courgettes!

I’m lucky to be able to work with such amazing soil here – green sand, which as one of our volunteers said is like gardening in chocolate mousse! We also feel lucky to have such a great ecology here – lots of birds, hedgehogs, bees and other insects which is not only beneficial for the environment– but keeps pests away from the vegetables too!

Having taken over the Exotic Garden last year, I decided to give it a bit of a makeover. This involved expanding the area into the nursery and creating a new layout, complete with sinewy lines and a roundabout. Parham’s Gardens sit in a frost pocket and the Exotic Garden is a frost pocket within a frost pocket. Not the ideal spot for an Exotic Garden! Hence planting has to be hardy approximations of exotica, plus we overwinter all of the half-hardies and tender plants in the greenhouses. These include 15 different varieties of canna, tetrapanax, melianthus, dahlias, begonias and a hundred new orange zantedeschias. Over the last few weeks I have been replanting these with help of our wonderful volunteers.

I love my job, in particular the level of autonomy and creative freedom I’ve been afforded. I’ve been lucky enough to work on some really striking displays over the years– 100 cultivars of sunflower, 50 alliums, 80 gladioli, and last year, our most ambitious yet, 130 varieties of annual climbers, which was featured on BBC Gardeners World back in March.

Max evidently has passion and knowledge in spades across a wide section of the Gardens, but his favourite part of Parham has to be the planting in the Herb Garden.

“The space created by Parham Gardener, Laura, is simple but beautiful and intimate. I wish my own garden looked half as good as that.”

For more information about Parham’s Gardens click here.