Colour your world

Their gor­geous fra­grance and blooms make sweet peas a favourite

Life & Style Weekend - - GARDEN - with Ma­ree Cur­ran Got a gar­den­ing ques­tion? Email ma­[email protected]­nat­by­ron.com.au

IT’S time to plant sweet peas. In Aus­tralia, St Patrick’s Day is the tra­di­tional day for sow­ing sweet pea seeds. But re­ally, any time in March or April is okay. This tim­ing al­lows the seeds to sprout and grow strongly through win­ter.

Once spring ar­rives, they are ready to flower. If you plant them too late they don’t have time to grow to flow­er­ing stage be­fore the heat of sum­mer.

The sweet pea (Lathyrus odor­a­tus) is an an­nual, a mem­ber of the Legu­mi­nosae fam­ily. There are climbers and dwarf forms, and the flower colours vary from white and cream through pinks and crim­sons to blues and pur­ples. They bloom pro­lif­i­cally, and make a lovely cut flower. Many va­ri­eties have a de­light­ful fra­grance, too. All of the va­ri­eties that we grow today have been bred from the same par­ent seeds, which were sent by a Si­cil­ian monk, Fran­cis­cus Cu­pani, to col­leagues in Am­s­ter­dam and Eng­land in 1699. Seeds of this beau­ti­fully scented pur­ple-ma­roon bi­colour form, called Cu­pani, are still widely avail­able.

The climb­ing forms of sweet peas can grow up to two me­tres, so they need some sup­port. If you don’t have a fence or trel­lis, build a teepee by ty­ing three or more tall straight sticks or stakes to­gether at the top with some string. Have the sup­port struc­ture in place be­fore you plant, as you may dam­age the roots if you poke stakes into the ground once your plants are grow­ing. There are also dwarf va­ri­eties that don’t need sup­port, but still pro­duce large flow­ers on long, sturdy stems.

Sweet peas are easy to grow from seed. They pre­fer a sunny po­si­tion, with plenty of or­ganic mat­ter and a sprin­kling of lime or Dolomite in the soil. If you’re grow­ing them in a pot, use premium pot­ting mix. Some gar­den­ers like to soak the seeds in wa­ter overnight, or scar­ify the seeds with some­thing like an emery board to speed up ger­mi­na­tion. Sow seeds di­rectly where they are to grow, about 2–4cm deep. Pea seeds won’t ger­mi­nate read­ily in wa­ter­logged soil, so plant into moist soil and then don’t wa­ter them again un­til the shoots emerge. Once the shoots are about 5–8cm tall, pinch out the tops to en­cour­age side shoots, which will pro­duce more flow­ers.

Flow­er­ing should be­gin about 12–14 weeks af­ter plant­ing. It’s im­por­tant to keep pick­ing the flow­ers and re­mov­ing any seed pods to en­cour­age more blooms to form.

Be­cause sweet peas are a mem­ber of the legume fam­ily, they can cre­ate ni­tro­gen and “fix’’ it in the soil. This means that, when the sweet peas are fin­ished, you can chop the plants up and re­turn them to the soil, and plant some ni­tro­gen lovers such as leafy greens in that po­si­tion.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

Sweet peas should be sown in March or April for beau­ti­ful blooms in spring. SWEET PEA IS NA­TIVE TO SI­CILY, SOUTH­ERN ITALY AND THE AEGEAN IS­LANDS IN EUROPE

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