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