Out in the Garden
Plant now to enjoy their sensational colour and fragrance this Summer!
I love Sweet Peas! They are just one of those quintessentially beautiful cottage garden flowers that are a delight to grow and have the ability to fill your garden (and your home!) with beautiful sweetly scented blooms in a variety of wonderful colours.
Although you can buy plants in garden centres in spring, there is a far wider range of colour and scent if you grow from seed. And they are very so easy to grow, with the most ordinary care yet will reward a little extra effort with even more wonderful results!
When is the best time to sow your Sweet Peas?
If you are well prepared, you could have sown sweet peas last autumn to give you earlier flowers. However, I prefer sowing in February as this gets around the problem of having to overwinter them. And when it is cold and bleak outside, it is wonderful to do a little bit of gardening from the warmth of your greenhouse (…or kitchen!) and dream about those warmer days of summer!!
If you don’t want to go to all this effort, seeds can be sown directly into the ground in March or April. This can be done in addition to the autumn or February pot-grown plants to allow for a successive long flowering season, but generally if you look after your plants and continue to pick the flowers they will continue to flower for you!
So, with this in mind, dusted off my propagator this week and browsed through the wide range of seeds available to select my favourites to grow this year, which leads to the next question!
What Sweet Peas should you grow?
Generally when choosing your Sweet Peas there is a pay-off between wonderful scent, fabulous flower quantity and stem length (more essential for cutting & flower arranging).
So you can choose from either:
Old Fashioned Varieties: Wonderful scent, but have shorter stems and less flowers; or
Modern Hybrid Varieties: Less scent, but longer stems and more prolific flowers
Ideally, you should plant a combination and then you will benefit from the best of both worlds!
I like to grow some monotone groups of Sweet Peas of my favourite colour which arrange beautifully with cornflowers, alchemilla and ammi major (Bishops Flower) for a country-style bunch of flowers. Plus a good bunch of the traditional clashing reds, mauves, pinks, blues and whites which look (and smell) wonderful in a ceramic jug on the kitchen table …or anywhere in the house!
In the past I have succumb to a selection of seeds from Sarah Raven, but this year I have started off with 4 different varieties from Thompson & Morgan. In truth these were on offer in our local garden centre (50% off at Wilton Locks!) and all the reports are good, so I thought that I would give them a go!
So, together with the description given by Thompson & Morgan, I have chosen the following varieties:
Heirloom Bicolour Mixed: An impressive mixture of small-flowered, heirloom (Grandiflora type) sweet peas offering the widest range of beautifully scented bicolours. These old fashioned annual Sweet Peas are superb for cutting and the more blooms you cut, the more the plants will flower! Perfect for filling vases indoors with colour and perfume. Try covering a sunny fence or obelisk, or let them scramble through mature shrubs. Height: 200cm (79″). Spread: 30cm (12″).
Early Mammoth Mixed: Extra long stems bear 5 to 6 large blooms each and have a superb colour range. Though not well suited to training as a cordon, Sweet Pea ‘Early Mammoth Mixed’ is an excellent variety for growing in the greenhouse, producing masses of early blooms for cut flower arrangements. Height: 150cm (59″). Spread: 30cm (12″).
Night & Day: A plentiful supply of long stemmed blooms in richly contrasting shades of burgundy and white. These vigorous climbers are beautifully scented and make a superb summer display. The flowers of Sweet Pea ‘Night and Day’ are ideal for adding to cut flower arrangements. Height: 180cm (71″). Spread: 30cm (12″).
Matucana: A lovely heirloom (Grandiflora) type, that was first introduced into Britain in the 17th century by Sicilian monk, Franciscus Cupani. Despite its slightly smaller flower size, Sweet Pea ‘Matucana’ retains the original captivating Sweet Pea fragrance that has become so characteristic in today’s modern varieties. This striking bicolour produces masses of crimson and violet blooms on very bushy plants that are ideal for scrambling over obelisks. Height: 180cm (71”). Spread: 30cm (12”)..
No doubt I will add some more varieties to this range, but these should defiantly give a great mix of colour, fragrance and flowering season.
How do you sow your Sweet Peas?
With snow outside in the garden I decided that it was too cold to venture outside to the greenhouse, so Alfie, my 3½ year old assistant, and I brought the pots and compost into the kitchen and did this little bit of gardening in the warm!
Sweet Peas like growing with a long root run, so deep pots are ideal to use e.g. root trainers or long, thin pots (cardboard loo rolls are ideal!) or 9cm-13cm pots.
If you have enough room, it is ideal to sow seed individually in root trainers or 9cm (3in) pots filled with multi-purpose compost; or five to seven seeds to a 13cm (5in) pot, spacing the seeds 2-3cm (¾-1¼in) apart. Push seeds in to about an inch below the surface of the multi-purpose compost. Cover the seeds with 1cm (½in) of compost.
Alfie and I used 9cm pots, and, because we wanted to put them all into our propagator, we put 5 seeds into each pot so these will need to be planted singularly once they have reached about 3.5 cm (1½in).
I am not entirely sure that my enthusiastic assistant actually got all the same seed varieties in the same pot, but we did wave goodbye to each seed as it was pushed into the soil wishing them all to grow into healthy strong plants …Alfie is a great fan of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ so I do hope he wont be disappointed if our Sweet Peas don’t grow that big! But we’re always hopeful for a big bag of gold!!
Once planted, water in, cover the pots with clear polythene or glass and keep at about 15°C (59°F). It’s very important to set a mousetrap near your sweet peas. Mice love the seed and your whole crop may disappear in one go.
Check for germination every day. Once the seedlings appear, keep them cool at about 5 degrees centigrade. This promotes root and not stem growth. A cold greenhouse, or cold frame is ideal, but your plants will be fine in a light potting shed.
Pinch out the leader – the growing tip – when there are three or four pairs already grown. Just squeeze it off between your finger and thumb, reducing the plant to one to two inches in height. This promotes vigorous side shoot formation -the energy of the plant going into growing out, not up.
Planting out your Sweet Peas
When the roots have filled the Rootrainer, it is time to plant them out …but not before the final spring frost!. If you have sown your seeds in spring, you will need to harden off the seedlings before planting them out.
Sweet Peas like on open sunny position and thrive in moist fertile well drained soil. The planting ground should be dug over well beforehand and well rotted manure or garden compost incorporated, as this will provide additional nutrients and aid moisture retention.
Before you plant your sweet peas you need to construct a support system for them to grow up – a tepee or frame of bamboo canes is ideal. Once the ground is prepared and the supports are constructed, it is time to plant your seeds!
I usually plant 3-4 seeds by each upright, making a small hole with a trowel and firming in afterwards. Once you have finished, give the newly planted sweet peas a good watering.
Caring for your Sweet Peas
As the young sweet pea plants begin to grow, tie them into the frame, don’t leave them to flop around. They’ll grow more quickly and make stronger plants tied in regularly, once a fortnight for the first month and then more often when they start to romp away.
If all you want is a fine display in the garden the sweet peas can be left pretty much to do their own thing! Keep the plants well watered and feed every couple of weeks with a liquid tomato feed.
To ensure a prolonged flowering season, as flowers start to appear it is vital to either pick them for the house or remove them as soon as they start to fade. If you see any seed pods as you’re cutting, snip these off as well. You don’t want your plants forming seed or it will stop the plants producing flowers. If you are going away on holiday during the summer, make sure you invite friends and neighbors’ to have their pick …after all this hard work, you don’t want to return home to a teepee of seed pods!
If you follow all this and just remember to pick, pick & pick you will have a wonderful display of Sweet Peas to enjoy in your garden and house this summer! Something to look forward to on a bleak cold day in February!
If you like the idea of growing more of your own flowers for cutting, come and join us for our Cutting Garden Workshop on Tuesday 20 March, and we will show you how to design and create your own Cutting Garden and select a fabulous range of flowers which are easy to grow and perfect for cutting.