Fragrant beauty

Oc­to­ber is both a time to bring in the last of the har­vest and think about the sea­sons to come. Sue Bradley looks for­ward to a fragrant sum­mer

Living France - - À La Maison -

They smell great, bring colour and height to the gar­den and aren’t dif­fi­cult to grow: sweet peas tick a lot of boxes and Oc­to­ber is a good time to start sow­ing seeds for next sum­mer. This much-loved plant, known as pois de sen­teur in France, can be grown as an­nu­als or peren­ni­als, the lat­ter of­ten sold as ‘ev­er­last­ing sweet pea’, or Lathyrus lat­i­folius, to call it by its botan­i­cal name.

Yet while this climb­ing plant is pro­lific when it comes to flow­ers, its blooms aren’t as fragrant, or avail­able in as many colours, as those of its cousin, L. odor­a­tus.

In fact, there are so many dif­fer­ent cul­ti­vars of the an­nual sweet pea from which to choose that one of the hard­est things about grow­ing them is de­cid­ing which ones to sow.

The old­est avail­able to­day is ‘Cu­pani’, which can be traced back to the seeds of a wild plant sent by the Si­cil­ian monk Fran­cis Cu­pani to var­i­ous in­sti­tu­tions and plant col­lec­tors in the late 1690s. Its sweetly scented ma­roon and vi­o­let flower went on to cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion of gen­er­a­tions of gardeners, some of whom de­voted their lives to de­vel­op­ing new cul­ti­vars.

Many grow­ers rate mem­bers of the Gran­di­flora group, first de­vel­oped to­wards the end of Queen Vic­to­ria’s reign and ad­mired for their per­fume and el­e­gant flow­ers. Among their star per­form­ers are ‘Prince of Or­ange’ and the navy blue ‘Lord Nel­son’.

Other gardeners, es­pe­cially those pro­duc­ing blooms for show­ing, like the frillier Spencer types – bred for the an­ces­tors of Diana, Princess of Wales – which in­clude the cream-flow­ered ‘Jilly’ and carmine-hued ‘Car­lotta’. Sweet peas should be sown in moist com­post in con­tain­ers that pro­vide plenty of space for their long roots. Spe­cial­ist plas­tic root train­ers are avail­able, although the card­board tubes from toi­let rolls are a good sub­sti­tute. Sow a cou­ple of seeds per mod­ule and keep the de­vel­op­ing plants in a cool green­house or light, un­heated room over win­ter and al­low them to harden off be­fore trans­fer­ring them to their flow­er­ing spot in late spring. En­cour­age plants to be­come bushy by pinch­ing out the tips just be­low a set of leaves. Sweet peas are climb­ing plants and need some sort of sup­port to keep them off the ground, such as a ‘wig­wam’ made from long sticks or pea fenc­ing. Young plants can be tied to their sup­ports when first put into the soil, although in time they should send out ten­drils to at­tach them­selves as they de­velop. Al­ter­na­tively, look out for some of the new cas­cad­ing cul­ti­vars, such as ‘Sweetie Mix’, that can be grown in hang­ing bas­kets. Once sweet peas start pro­duc­ing flow­ers, it’s im­por­tant to keep cut­ting them so that they con­tinue to make more. Re­move any emerg­ing seed pods im­me­di­ately to pre­vent the plant from think­ing its work is done. One of the nicest things about grow­ing sweet peas is that gardeners can eas­ily find homes for posies of these pretty, fragrant flow­ers if they get too many; a lovely way to ce­ment old friend­ships and make new ones if ever there was one.

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