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.
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? :)