Thursday, 27 March 2014

My Fledgling Garden

This post is something of a confessional. Here's the thing. I have never had much success with Sweet Peas. There I've said it. It feels good to get that off my chest.

I have grown them from seed for the past five years. They are one of the first seeds I ever planted in my greenhouse. I am able to get them to germinate. To grow into healthy seedlings, and from there into a plant that can be put into the garden and trained up a wigwam. I have picked flowers from them, and inhaled their scent deeply. I have put posies by my bedside, and admired their beautiful form and colour. But they have never grown as prolifically as I would have liked.

I am determined that this year I (or possibly the lucky person that inherits them when they buy the house) will be picking a  multitude of blooms to perfume the house. Ideally I would like several sweet pea wigwams dotted about the garden borders and some more scrambling up the fence by the veggie patch. I would be a very happy fledgling gardener if I could manage that.

So I have consulted all my gardening books and on line sources to come up with a guide of sorts to successful sweet pea adventuring. I'm sure all of you reading this manage just fine with your sweet peas. Hence why this post is really for my own benefit!

  •  Sweet Peas are hardy annual plants. They have an amazing scent, and that's primarily why I want to grow them. They will happily reside in a posy jar by your bedside and pump out their perfume for you to enjoy. They also look fabulous in the garden scrambling up wigwams and tepees or over arches and trellis. They give height and interest in the border.
  • The best scented sweet peas are from 'old fashioned' stock, and not the new cultivars. The most commonly known are 'Matucana' and 'Cupani's Original.' Sarah Raven also recommends 'Painted Lady' and 'Black Knight' varieties. I have sowed all of these this year.
  • Early sowing is key. Late winter is ideal, although Sarah Raven gets hers started in September. I sowed mine in late January in the greenhouse, so they still have a way to go. Sowing in the Autumn results in larger plants, and an earlier picking season.
  • Sow a couple of seeds to a pot. Sweet peas dislike root disturbance, so long thin pots are ideal. I use the tubes from toilet rolls, which biodegrade in the soil. I soak the seeds overnight to help soften the hard casing of the seed, but I have read that it isn't necessary. Multi purpose compost is fine. Push the seed about 2cm into the soil. I've read that it's a good idea to cover the seed trays to keep keep moisture and heat in and light out. I never have, and my seeds germinate well enough.
  • Once the seeds have started to germinate, make sure that they are kept cool. A cold greenhouse or cold frame or windowsill in a shed is ideal. The cool conditions promote root growth.
  • When there are three or four pairs of leaves, pinch out the growing tip. This promotes vigorous side shoot formation. I have not done this before, and so very nervously attempted it last weekend. I googled a tutorial and followed that.
  • For the next month or so, keep the plant moist, check for any spindly tips and pinch out if necessary. Check the bottom of the pot for white roots, and if any are visible pot up. Two plants to one two litre pot is ideal.
  • Once the roots have filled this pot, they are ready to plant out into the garden. If you have sowed in the Autumn, then your sweet peas should be ready to plant out now. Mine are not ready yet, but this weekend I shall be potting up into larger plants and will hopefully be planting out by mid April.
  • Sweet peas will need some kind of support to scramble up. I am hoping to have three wigwams in my garden and some climbing a trellis fence. They need to be tied in regularly, as it makes for stronger plants. And once they start to flower you need to pick. If you see any seed pods forming pinch them off, as once the the seed forms the plant will stop producing flowers.
  • When the flowers are coming to an end, you can let the pods form in order to pick seed for the next year's sowing.


The pictures were taken at Eden Project last summer. There was a display of sweet peas on a long wall of trellis. It was sumptuous and heavenly to walk around burying ones nose deep inside the flowers. I'd love the space to recreate something like that.

And there you have it. A not so definitve guide to successful sweet peas. Of course you could always bypass all of the above nonsense, and buy some plug plants from the garden centre. But where would be the fun it that? :)

Leanne xx


  1. Thank you, Leanne. I knew next to nothing about sweet peas before I popped in on you today. I've never grown them but I think they're pretty and of course they smell heavenly. The main ones I have experience with are, strangely, growing in the grass around the edge of the swimming pool in the "mature people" condominium complex where my in-laws were living until last summer during the months when they are here from NZ. They moved to a different place and I'm going to miss those sweet peas even more than I'm going to miss the pool, I think.

  2. This is a really interesting post for me as I really want to grow sweet peas this year. I'm hoping I'm not too late, I just ordered the seeds… oops! x

  3. My old dad used to say sew your sweet peas on January 1st, and they'll be ready to plant out in early april after hardening off for at least two weeks before. I have good years and bad years with sweet peas but agree - their scent is worth any effort on our part. Mmmmm can smell them now. If it makes you feel better Leanne - mine are only just germinating now! So a bit late, but it probably won't make much difference. Enjoy yours. Best wishes Mary at

  4. I hope that you have sweet success!! xx

  5. I love sweet peas but have never had any success with them in my current garden. When I was a child my Dad would let me have some for my patch of garden and they grew like weeds...but here in Leeds...I don't know what I'm doing wrong. I'll probably try again this year as my Dad has already sowed some seeds and is cultivating them for me in his greenhouse until they're ready to plant out (cheating a bit I know) but hopefully they'll do a bit better!!!.

  6. I love sweet peas but mine never flourish. The sweetest scent in the house and the garden.

  7. Oh Leanne I love, LOVE sweet peas. They seem to be the only thing I can grow. I always buy the plugs from the garden centre, usually in April or May, and put them straight into the ground. Nothing smells as good as sweet peas and, even if they do wilt quickly, I still love to pick some to bring indoors. x

  8. brilliant still have ALL of my seeds to plant! x

  9. I love this post. Beautiful sweet peas!