With the Christmas and New year festivities behind us our thoughts are turning to the new gardening year. Sowing sweet peas just after Christmas has become a bit of a tradition and makes you feel that the new year has begun even though the January weather is cold and uninviting.
This year we have decided to create two themes using the following varieties (all available from Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (www.rpsweetpeas.com)). For us a sweet pea must have a good scent to be worth growing. We also look for varieties that have a longer flower stem so that they sit well amongst other cottage garden flowers when brought into the house.
Details on how we sow our sweet peas and bring on our plants are also included below.
Pink, red and white selection
Emily (tall grandiflora type – rose pink on a white ground)
Millennium (tall spencer type – crimson)
Zorija Rose (tall grandiflora type – deep rose shades)
Hannah Dale (tall early grandiflora type – purple maroon)
Mollie Rilstone (tall spencer type – cream with a pink edge)
CCC (tall grandiflora type – white)
Blue and white collection
Blue Danube (tall spencer type – mid-blue)
Just Jenny (tall spencer type – navy blue)
King Size Navy Blue (tall semi-grandiflora type – navy blue)
Greenfingers (tall grandiflora type – cream with a violet edge)
Adorabel (tall grandiflora type – lavender turning mauve blue)
Dragonfly (tall semi-grandiflora type – cream marked with lavender)
CCC (tall grandiflora type – white)
Sowing and growing sweet peas
There seems to be a lot of mystique around sowing sweet peas but we have always found them very easy to grow and need no specialist equipment or seed treatment. Although in the past we have soaked the seed overnight before sowing we have not found this necessary to get good germination. Roger Parsons ( www.rpsweetpeas.com ) indicates that soaking or chipping the seed may in fact reduce germination.
We certainly have good success with the following approach:
- Sow 3 or 4 seeds in January in standard 9cm pots in a mix of multi-purpose compost and perlite.
- Water well and place on the kitchen window sill (this is usually around a constant 18°C-20°C). Do not water again until the seedlings start to emerge.
- You will typically see the first seedlings show themselves in about 7-14 days.
- Once the seedlings have emerged we move them out into a cold, unheated greenhouse. They are best grown on hard in plenty of light so that they do not get leggy. If the temperature drops to below -5°C they may need some protection.
- We keep the seedlings up high on the greenhouse staging so that there is less risk of mice and other rodents getting to them.
- Once the plants have reached four leaves, pinch out the tops of all the plants so that they bush out.
- In around mid-March, we harden off for a couple of weeks before planting out into the garden. We have grown them up canes in the past but this requires a lot of attention to ensure the plants are tied in effectively. More recently we have found that standard pea and bean netting works particularly well as long as you buy a decent quality that can be used again and again over a number of years.
- You should create a deep well dug planting trench incorporating lots of well-rotted organic matter into the soil both to hold the moisture and feed the hungry plants through the season.
- Plant out the whole pot of 3 or 4 plants together without disturbing the roots and water in well. Each pot should be planted around 12 inches apart and the tendrils gently encouraged to take a grip of the netting.
- The final stage for us (if we don’t want to have wasted all our hard work) is to run chicken wire around the base of the row to keep the rabbits at bay.
All you need to do now is stand back and watch them grow making sure that you keep them regularly watered and fed with a liquid feed every couple of weeks once they are flowering. As soon as they start to flower pick them regularly (probably every day). The more you pick the more flowers you will get!