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Unwin's Seed Trial Grounds, Histon 4092

Brief Description

A 2.4 hectare site used by Unwin's Seeds Ltd. where seeds are to developed, tested and assessed.

Detailed Description

Along the north side of Impington Lane are the trial grounds of Unwins Seeds Ltd. These cover 2.4 hectares where 4,500 varieties of annuals, biennials, perennials and vegetables from seed are assessed. Many new and experimental strains are on show each year. The company uses the trials to determine the garden worthiness of new varieties and monitors the trueness to type of strains it already lists.

Civil Parish

  • Histon

Detailed History

William Unwin started to grow stocks, asters, Shasta daisies and sweet peas for the London Flower Market at Covent Garden.

Around 1902, he and a colleague, Professor Biffen, a geneticist, noticed an attractive frilled sweet pea flowering in one of his fields along Impington Lane. Biffen was able to instruct William how to propagate this flower, which soon became a must amongst a rapidly growing circle of sweet pea fanciers. This proved to be a hardy and disease resistant variety. He named it after his eldest child, Gladys Unwin, and because of its success he realised that more profit could be made in mail order seed sales than in blooms. Later he extended his plant-breeding work and raised the pea Onward and the tomato The Amateur.

In 1911 the Daily Mail organised a Sweet Pea competition with a first prize of 1,000 pounds which attracted 35,000 entries. All the main prizes and the silver medals awarded to 63 runners-up were won by William Unwin's customers. His son Charles gave the first broadcast talk on Sweet Peas from the Savoy Studios, London in 1923 and in 1979 he was presented with a silver salver commemorating 70 years service to the Horticultural Seed Trade. He had bred over 250 Sweet Pea varieties which were introduced into cultivation by the family firm. Charles's favourite is a salmon pink named after the family friend Frances Perry.