Welcome to Flowers On Sunday on what has been a beautiful start to the summer!
The weather has been perfect for the summer solstice – we sat outside until late into the evening at the opera last night and today I have gardened in shorts, which is very rare for me. As my beautiful June borders start to tip into disarray, with the roses scattering their confetti petals across every surface, I have my sights now firmly fixed on the long lazy days of summer. I have spent today tidying borders of the early summer growth – cutting back perennial cornflowers, pruning roses and very sadly removing the last spent flowers from my peonies. This clear out has the joint benefit of opening up the borders allowing space to add dahlias and summer annuals, as well as prompting a re growth of lush foliage on fading hardy geraniums, oriental poppies and alchemilla mollis.
To mark the start of summer the sweet peas sown back in February have decided to start flowering. The ones planted in the greenhouse are producing new flowers daily now and my outdoor plants in the Cutting garden have also started to flower, so there will be regular bunches from now on. I keep a jug of sweet peas on my kitchen windowsill, which I top up with fresh blooms picked as I take the dogs on their morning romp around the garden.
Today I cut all the blooms available in the greenhouse and made small bunches of each variety. I have used some little milk bottles to display them in. The advantage of the indoor crop is that it has not been affected by the tiny black flies that seem to have covered every bloom in my garden.
If you are suffering from this problem the best way to deal with it is to leave your cut flowers in a dark shed or garage overnight – the flies should leave your flowers in search of light. If that does not solve the problem try submerging the blooms in salt water for a few minutes (this works well with artichoke heads as well). Rinse them well to remove any salt – if left to dry naturally most fresh blooms will survive this drenching.
I used two suppliers for my seed this year. Sarah Raven and Owl’s Acre Sweet Peas. The seeds from both suppliers germinated well and have started flowering at the same time. In the greenhouse I have Matucana and Prince Edward of York from Sarah Raven. Both of these are heirloom varieties with smaller flowers and shorter stems than the florists sweet peas. The scent, however, is outstanding and arranged in these little bottles I think they hold up very well against the larger flowered Spencer varieties that I purchased from Owl’s Acre. In the photo below Matucana is the purple bi-colour and Prince Edward of York is the very bright two tone pink.
I have lost the label of this sweet pea in the greenhouse, but I think it is Gwendoline. This is a Spencer variety from Owl’s Acre with a very long stem and large flowers. She also has a very lovely sweet pea scent.
Displayed altogether on the table I set up for my Ascot flowers on Monday, I think all these varieties complement each other very well. Once sweet peas are flowering it is very important to cut them regularly – if they start to set seed it is very hard to reverse the process. I try to cut all the flowers every three days, but you should certainly aim for no less than once a week.
Sweet peas will also do better with a regular soaking and a feed every week or so. I use Maxi crop for my feed – this organic plant food works well on most of my plants and really seems to boost sweet pea production. Once the plants reach the top of their supports you can wind the stems back on a horizontal and they will reward you with even more flowers.
The sweet pea below is called Eclipse and is a new Spencer variety for me. I think it is my favourite so far this year, although I have more varieties growing in the garden not all of which have bloomed yet.
I am very impressed with how well the sweet peas have grown in the greenhouse – I have never tried indoor growing before. This year I started all my seeds in February and then planted some young plants in the greenhouse bed and the rest in the garden at about the same time. The indoor sweet peas have started to flower abundantly earlier than the outdoor ones, which are still about half the height. My plan is to start a batch of sweet peas in October this year and to plant these into the greenhouse bed as soon as it is empty of Paperwhites (probably mid February). I am hoping that I will then have my first sweet peas in May, rather than in June.
I have often come across the question with peonies of whether they are the last flower of spring or the first flower of summer. I think in my heart peonies provide the grand finale to spring and a garden overflowing with sweet peas is the first act of summer.
I hope you will not mind if I indulge myself with a few weeks of sweet pea fever whilst the season is young and fresh!