After a few false starts I have finally got this years sweet peas underway. I have sown the left over seed from last year and made my order for the new varieties I want to try this year.
Sweet peas are a flower that take me right back to my childhood. My father always grew the very best sweet peas – long stemmed and sweetly scented. He was rigorous about cutting the flowers regularly, so our house was full of posies in the summer and his plants always seemed to continue producing for far longer than mine ever do.
Sweet peas are an early summer staple in my Cutting Garden. They look beautiful on their supports, flower abundantly and have that unmistakable scent when gathered together in a posy. My favourite colours are the pastel shades, but I always grow a few dark varieties for contrast in the vase.
This year I was delighted to find that Erin of Floret Flowers was posting a week long series all about how she chooses and grows sweet peas. From her posts I have ordered from a new source (Owl’s Acre Sweet Peas), soaked my seeds before sowing them and decided to stick mainly to the Spencer varieties as these seem to have the best scent and the longest stems.
As far as I am aware there are 3 main types of annual sweet peas – modern, heirloom and Spencer. Many of the modern sweet peas produce beautiful long stems but with little or no scent, so those are out for me. The heirloom varieties have much smaller flowers, although the scent is fantastic. I grew a lot of these last summer and will certainly include a few to grow over my arches again this summer, but the stem length and flower size was not really good enough for cutting. That leaves me with the Spencer varieties ( the preferred type for Erin at Floret Flower Farm). These have beautiful scent and large flowers on long stems – they are the ones that float my boat!
This year I have started by soaking the seeds left over from last year. You will see that these are all Sarah Raven seeds which flowered very successfully after a slow start last summer. The mix of heirloom and Spencer varieties I have soaking are:-
- Black Knight – crimson black
- Almost Black – very dark
- Lord Nelson – purple navy
- Matucana – magenta & purple
- Painted Lady – pale & dark pink
- Prince Edward of York – deep & pale pink
- Pink Panther – almond pink (from King’s Seeds)
After soaking overnight the seeds were sown two to a plug in the rootrainers that I have been using for the last four years. Rootrainers are long thin plastic pots and are ideal for peas, beans and sweet peas, which all have long root growth. I have sown 2 sections of each type of seed – that will be eight plugs in all with 2 seeds in each plug. If they all germinate I will plant 5 plugs of each variety in the Cutting Garden and the spare plugs can be given away. I may also try growing a few plants in the border in the greenhouse to see if that produces earlier flowers.
After sowing, the seeds are well watered and then placed in my heated propagator to germinate. As soon as they germinate I will move them onto the greenhouse staging and then into the cold frames to harden off before planting out (hopefully in March). When the plants are 6 inches tall I will prick out the growing tips to thicken them up and create bushy growth.
The varieties on order are:-
- Angela Ann – rose pink
- Anniversary – pink picotee
- Eclipse – Rich Mauve
- Gwendoline – magents pink
- Limelight – pale green
- Mollie Rilstone – pink picotee on ceam
- Mrs Bernard Jones – classic pink
- Sir Jimmy Shard – lilac stripes
- White Frills
- White Supreme
A few of these are new to me this year and I am particularly excited about Limelight – I have never seen a green sweet pea.
Sweet peas are hungry plants (you cannot expect huge growth and mountains of flowers without generous feeding). Whilst they are in their pots the compost will feed them for the first 6 weeks or so of growth. As they will remain in their pots for a few more weeks until conditions are suitable for planting out (they are hardy down to -5) I will start to add liquid seaweed to the watering can once a week.
During February (weather permitting) I will prepare their planting space. I use hazel sticks to create a support. In past years I have wound string around the sticks to provide a framework for them to scramble up, but this year I will be ordering jute netting from Agriframes for my sweet peas, peas and beans. It is much nicer than pea netting, which drives me to distraction as it knots itself around everything except my supports. At the end of the year it can be composted, which saves the frustrating task of trying to store unruly netting in a tidy way.
Before the hazel sticks are put in place a trench will be filled with kitchen waste saved for the purpose. This will rot down before the plugs are planted out and provide the good rich conditions that sweet peas love. After the plants have been transferred to their growing site they will need lots of regular watering and a weekly feed – I use maxi crop on all my flowers and vegetables. Once they start to flower I will continue feeding and watering, making sure all the flowers are cut off the plants at least once a week to stop them running to seed. With this regime they should still be flowering in September.
Sadly I seem to have missed photographing most of last years sweet peas – I could only find a few pictures to share with you. I am looking forward to putting that right this year! As I am planning to grow so many sweet peas this year (I am always greedy for more flowers than I can possibly use), I might set up a table by the gate to sell posies – who knows where it might lead.