Sweet peas are one of nature’s deceivers. Their tissue paper petals in pretty shades suggest a plant that needs coddling and protecting. In fact, they are far tougher than they seem and seedlings will happily survive winter with only minimal protection.
To get the earliest blooms, gardeners are generally advised to sow sweet peas in autumn. It’s advice I tend to ignore. For one thing, I’m usually too busy and haven’t sorted out what I intend to grow. And, despite pinching out the growing tips and putting them in the cold frame, I find plants get too leggy and sad-looking by spring.
I prefer to sown them now; they have plenty of time to make growth before they need planting them out and I don’t have to worry about looking after them in pots for as long.
Using something with space for long roots is advice that is followed. For years, I’ve had Rootrainers, first bought at the Malvern spring show. Because they open up, small plants are easy to remove without damaging the roots and the cells can be reused – always good where plastic is concerned.
An alternative environmentally friendly method is to use the cardboard inners from toilet rolls. It’s not something I’ve tried as I never think to save them until I’m about to sow! Maybe next year . . .
Seed can be difficult to germinate and laying them on damp tissue paper in a pot with a lid is suggested. It’s a method that worked really well for me with parsnip last season but I’ve never had any problem with sweet peas so sow them direct, one seed per module. These go into heated propagators – a sunny windowsill would do – and I’ll gradually harden off the seedlings before putting them into the cold frame to wait for spring.
My sweet peas are grown on obelisks in the vegetable plot where it’s easier to get to the plants to cut the flowers – and I like the colour they add to the veg.
Last year, was a hugely successful one: masses of flowers and they produced for weeks longer than usual without the usual attack of mildew by late summer.
It’s probably because I took more care about preparing the ground, digging out a pit where the obelisk was going to stand, filling it with homemade compost and a good helping of SoilFixer’s ‘SF60 Super Soil Improver’, something else I was given to trial.
Most of the sweet peas grown were part of my gardening trials and there were some beauties.
I loved the soft colours in Suttons’ ‘Sublime Scent Mix’, which was full of pastel shades.
‘Greenfingers’ from Mr Fothergills proved to be a good strong-growing white.
In contrast, ‘Beaujolais’ from Suttons proved to be aptly named with deep claret blooms.
Then there was ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ from Unwins with beautiful two-toned flowers.
I hadn’t expected to like ‘Maloy’, also from Unwins, which was described as having flowers of apricot pink with orange pink wings. They turned out to be less strident than the description suggested and were one of the strongest growing of the varieties.
Alongside these, I grew my favourite ‘Cupani’, the oldest recorded sweet pea dating back to the 17th century. Its flowers may not be as big as modern varieties but there is little to rival it for scent.
It was also in the mix of sweet peas sent to me as plugs by Unwins. ‘Apple and Blackberry Mix’ teamed a lavender sweet pea with the maroon and violet ‘Cupani’ and the tiny limey-yellow unscented flowers of Lathyrus chloranthus. They made a striking combination.
With some seed left from last year, most of these will be grown again, probably with a few new varieties added to the mix.
I am also going to be testing Earth Cycle organic compost when the sweet peas are planted out. Made by a family firm in West Sussex, it’s peat-free and made using composted cow manure and will be used to fill the trenches.
Hopefully, it will be another bumper year.