As February marches forward my mind is turning to sowing seeds and in my garden no season is complete without sweet peas. An easy to grow beautiful annual flower.
I love sweet peas. They are pretty as a picture winding up willow supports amongst the vegetables bringing vibrant colours amongst statuesque green leaves. However, perhaps even more than the wonderful colours they bring to my veg borders I adore their powerful scent. They make a wonderful cut flower and I love having a posey of them sat on the kitchen windowsill in a re-purposed coffee jar, their incredible scent filling the kitchen and making you truly happy that summer is here again.
Lathyrus odoratus, their official name, are part of the legume family, the same family as edible peas and beans. They are hardy annual plants so you can start sowing in autumn through to early May. The benefit of starting to sow earlier in the season means that it’s possible to have them flowering earlier and a succession of blooms throughout the summer into early autumn.
Sweet peas have a long root system so require a deep pot in which to sow them such as a root trainer (tip: in the past I’ve saved loo-roll holders to sow them in – perfect as the paper will degrade into the soil). Sow them in peat-free multipurpose compost.
Some do recommend soaking the seed overnight, whilst I personally have found that there’s been no need for me to do this, if you do wish to then soak them in a little tepid water to cover in a cup. Into the middle of each pot pop in a seed and press about an inch down and cover with compost. Sit the pots in a shallow tray of water and let it soak through until the surface of the compost is damp. Once sown put them somewhere frost free but cold like a cold frame or a really cool windowsill. Don’t water again until you see shoots. Over-watering may mean that the seeds will rot off before they get started. It’s important to keep them in a cool area especially for early sown ones otherwise there is lots of luscious soft growth which slugs will love you for.
If you don’t have a cold-frame of cool enough windowsill, you can place them in a sheltered area outside and I would cover with fleece to protect against the worst of harsh weather.
You don’t need lots of plants to fill a space as they will become bigger with the season and put new shoots out as they grow. If you want lots of blooms the key is to nips some of the new shoots out and to keep picking the flowers regularly as they will keep re-blooming. If you stop picking the flowers they will run to seed and the plant will think it’s job is done and stop flowering.
Plant them out once you have robust plants and the worst of the frosts have finished.
Keeping The Enemy At Bay
Apart from slugs sweet peas are prone to mildew damage. The best protection against slugs is to have strong healthy plants of a good size before planting into their final place. To curb mildew it’s important to give them a long soak at the root weekly. Greenfly may also appear and the best organic method is to remove these by hand. Mice also love the seeds (everything’s got to eat!) so the best protection against your newly sown seeds is to cover with wire meshing or a pane of glass until the shoots are up.
Sweet peas are originally from Italy and used to a hot summer so our mixed British weather can sometimes be a little challenging but usually they cope really well and their beauty is worth the effort.
There are a multitude of varieties to choose from to suit every taste for colour and size, however, for me a sweet pea must, like my roses, have scent to make it into the garden. Heritage varieties are great and help preserve these seeds. I’m in the middle of picking mine for this year and I’m looking for strong deep and rich colours. My favourites are the deep red-purple ‘Windsor’, the glamourous ‘Almost Black’, the bi-coloured purple and pink and richly scented ‘Mutucana’ and my favourite vibrantly coloured deep and pale pink ‘Prince Edward of York’.
If you are planning on growing sweet peas this year I would love to hear what’s on your list. Did you grow beautiful ones last year? Would love you to share your sweet pea magic on Instagram at #LorraineGardens. Enjoy!