HOW TO GROW SWEET PEAS
Heady fragrance and colour make these a garden favourite
Ajar of sweet peas carries the essence of a summer’s day, and will permeate a room or patio with delicious scent. With a wide range of colours and a giving nature, these cottage garden favourites produce stem after stem of blooms.
They were almost made for picking, because flowers must be removed before pods form – otherwise, the plants think their job is done, close the flower shop and settle down to form seeds. The more you pick, the more flower buds they will make. Sweet peas don’t have a long vase-life, but by the time one lot has faded, there will be more to gather.
Whether growing from seed or plants, you should plan early, for sweet peas grow best in the cool of spring and early summer. Establishing young plants during a heatwave can be hard work, yet they will take off and perform well as long as there is plenty of deeply cultivated, well-conditioned soil under their roots, and plants are thoroughly and regularly watered.
Many growers will sow their seeds into deep pots or modules during autumn, so young plants set out in March grow away quickly. Sowing under glass in February and March, or making direct outdoors sowings in april works well. If pot-grown plants look ‘leggy’, pinch out growing tips on stems longer than 4in (10cm). Plants are available during spring and best planted promptly against supports.
The largest, frilliest sweet pea blooms belong to the Spencer varieties. Grown well, these have the potential to produce long stems of colourful and perfumed flowers, good enough to win prizes. You could grow one cultivar for a simple colour scheme, mix two for a blending or contrasting effect, or opt for a mixture.
There are also daintier, old-fashioned and very sweetly fragrant Grandiflora varieties. Their stems tend to be shorter, and although each bears fewer flowers than the Spencer kinds, there are always plenty of them. Low-growing varieties are useful for containers, and where height is not required.
Sweet peas are easy to grow from seed, sown one per long module. Germinate in an unheated greenhouse
Sweet Pea ‘Duo Salmon’ is a frilly, long-stemmed Spencer type
Lathyrus odoratus ‘Matucana’, a classic Grandiflora sweet pea with distinctive maroon and violet blooms