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Hyundai Country Calendar


Episode 8: Heaven Scent

Originally screened on April 11.

Sun and laughter - and lots of both - are key ingredients in the success of an Eastland export venture that features on this week's Country Calendar programme.

The programme profiles four Manutuke sweet pea growers who send the seeds from their crops to England, where they're sold to garden enthusiasts.

In theory, Bridget Richardson, Marg Sherratt, Carol Laing and Annie Conole are in competition with each other because they sell their seeds to different seed distributors in England.  But in practice the four find it's better to co-operate with each other - and it's also more fun.

Country Calendar filmed the group taking turns working together on each of their flower plots.

Reporter Julian O'Brien says the women never stopped laughing.  "A lot of what they do is painstaking and monotonous work," he says. "Their strategy for overcoming the boredom is to keep on cracking jokes - mostly at the others' expense."

Bridget Richardson says Gisborne's climate is the biggest reason for the crop's success.

Sweet peas originated in the Mediterranean, on Sicily and Crete, and do best in a hot, dry climate. In a good year, her crop can produce up to 40 kg of export seeds from plantings of just one kilogram - much better than can be achieved in England, where the main seed market is.

Country Calendar also talks to Bridget's mother, Pat Unwin, who started growing sweet peas in the area in the late 1950s and has now passed her skills on to the present growers.

Pat, in turn, is from a family that has been involved in sweet pea growing and breeding for over 100 years.

When she first came to Gisborne as an immigrant from England, it was to pursue a career in teaching - but when she described the climate and soils in letters home to her father, he persuaded her to grow a small trial batch of sweet peas and send him the seed to sell.

The results were so successful that the local sweet pea seed export industry was born - and has continued for over 50 years.

This season's crop, which has recently been harvested, has not been a big success. Dry weather in spring and early summer meant most of the plants grew to barely a metre tall, little more than half their usual height. That meant fewer flowers - and in turn fewer seeds.

Country Calendar reporter Julian O'Brien says it would have been nice to have filmed the crop in a good year - "but what we shot looks beautiful anyway," he says. "We got some lovely footage."

Although good shots of the flowers were vital to the show, they weren't the only factor, he says. "The real stars of our show are always the people - and Bridget and friends were a delight."

Other sites to view:

- Unwins' English sweet pea catalogue 
- An overview of the English sweet pea market (PDF format)