If you’re nostalgic for all things vintage you’ll love sweet peas or Lathyrus odoratus. These pretty garden plants, which come in a rainbow of colours, have a sweet floral scent that sums up a quintessentially English summer.
Sweet peas are annuals, so plants will only last one season. Growing them couldn’t be easier and the seeds can be sown right now!
As sweet peas have hard coats, it’s a good idea to soak the seed overnight on a piece of damp kitchen roll to rehydrate them before sowing and only sow those that have swollen as these should germinate quicker and in less that two weeks. Alternatively, you can rub the seed with sandpaper, or nick it using a sharp knife, so that water is more easily absorbed.
Sow one or two seeds 1cm deep in an 8cm pot and place in a cold frame and cover with newspaper. Remove the newspaper as soon as the seed germinate, which is usually in about two weeks, otherwise plants will get leggy.
Remove the weakest seedling and when the remaining seedling has produced four leaves nip out the top two, just above a set of leaves, to encourage bushy and more robust growth. Take precautions against slugs, snails, mice and birds and if frost is forecast close the frame and lag the glass with a blanket of bubble wrap or sacking at night.
In March or April plant your sweet peas outdoors in a sunny border in prepared soil that has been enriched with well-rotted garden compost and Growmore fertilizer. In the ornamental garden, space the plants around 20cm apart against a wigwam support made with thin branches or canes, or a decorative trellis screen.
Whilst sweet peas climb by attaching their tendrils around the support frame, it’s a good idea to tie in the plants to prevent them straying. If you’re growing them to exhibit at your local flower show, you might like to remove the tendrils, which will help keep the stems straight and divert the plants energy into growing bigger and better blooms.
On the cutting patch, set them against a netting support, which is strung between two stakes to make picking easier. You can expect to be picking blooms for the vase by May and the more flowers you cut, the more the plant will produce.
In summer keep the plants watered if the weather is dry to minimize bud drop and prevent scorching. If you are not regularly cutting the blooms, pay attention to deadheading and you’ll keep the flowers coming. Simply snip off ant spent blooms and seedpods when you see them.
YOU MUST GROW
For scent, Matucana is the benchmark, with which everything else is compared. Varieties with the best scent usually come from the Heritage collections and the old-fashioned grandiflora types, which includes the magenta purple Cupani that is closely related to the original sweet pea discovered growing wild in Sicily. The wavy-edged, pink and white Painted Lady is also a favourite and looks sensational when grown in association with runner beans up a wigwam in a flowerbed.
The frilly, flamboyant ‘Spencer’ types are a must-have for scent. Some of the modern introductions, which are usually a combination of both types, feature not only scent but large, striking blooms that can be bi-colours or with stripes and flake markings as well as picotee edges.
Snoopea is a superb dwarf sweet pea that carpets the ground with a kaleidoscope of colour and fragrance. It’s an excellent choice for using as border edging and for containers, including hanging baskets. Cupid, which is a pink and white bi-coloured, is another favourite of mine that is perfect for growing in pot
Check out the 2018 seed catalogues for the old favourites, exclusive mixes and new introductions.
My avourites for 2018 include:
Turqoise Lagoon, which has extraordinary flowers that change colour as they mature and Little Red Riding Hood that produces Pretty hooded buds open to reveal bicolour blooms. Both from Mr Fothergill’s.
Also the highly scented Patriotic Mix from Suttons (left), a trio of red, white and blue Spencer type sweet peas, chosen for their exceptional performance and perfume.
Sow plenty. Sweet peas can also be sown outdoors in a spot where you want them to flower in March or April.
After cutting sweet peas for the vase, put the blooms in a dark shed with the door left slightly ajar, so that any pollen beetles hiding within the flowers come out and escape towards to light.
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