Sneered at for years, sweet peas are in style again – and now’s the time to plant

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - GARDENING -

very so of­ten, a plant is ‘re­dis­cov­ered’ and is sud­denly fash­ion­able again. Helle­bores, once thought deadly dull, are now swooned over by gar­den­ers, while a few years ago dahlias were con­sid­ered vul­gar and gaudy; now they’re a key plant for late sum­mer. And this year the hum­ble sweet pea is the must-have plant of the sum­mer.

‘It’s partly nos­tal­gia — a lot of us re­mem­ber our grand­par­ents grow­ing sweet peas, so they have a retro charm,’ says Colin Hambidge of seed com­pany Mr Fothergill’s, which has de­clared 2013 The Year of the Sweet Pea, and is sell­ing 25 more va­ri­eties than last year. ‘But more than that, the sweet pea has ev­ery­thing go­ing for it. Although the flow­ers look so ex­otic, they’re very easy to grow and come in the most beau­ti­ful colours. They will with­stand all weather, and they make a fab­u­lous cut flower.’

Sweet peas are also great value — a € 2 packet of seeds should yield at least 15 plants. New sweet peas on the mar­ket in­clude ‘Dales­man’, a lovely deep blue (my­erss­weet­peas.com). There’s the laven­der-hued, long-stem ‘Chelsea Cen­te­nary’ and ‘En­chante’, a pink- cream-laven­der mix, while ‘Erewhon’ has dark blue petals topped by pink up­per petals. There is now a much bet­ter range of smaller sweet peas for con­tain­ers. ‘Snoo­pea’, which grows to a mere 30cm, has been around for years, but there is also now the Sol­way se­ries, which reach a height of 1m yet need lit­tle sup­port.

If you haven’t yet planted any sweet peas, now is the time to get started. You can sow them di­rectly in the ground where you want them to flower any time this month. Plant them by a fence or wall as most sweet peas need sup­port, or make a wig­wam of canes. When the first four leaves have formed, pinch out the tip of the plant to en­cour­age it to be­come bushy. Once sweet peas star t f low­er­ing in June, don’t al­low them set seed — keep cut­ting the flower stems and en­joy them in­doors.

‘Sol­way Ser­e­nade’

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