January sown Sweet Pea varieties for 2019

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)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

Millennium (tall spencer type – crimson)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

Zorija Rose (tall grandiflora type – deep rose shades)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

Hannah Dale (tall early grandiflora type – purple maroon)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

Mollie Rilstone (tall spencer type – cream with a pink edge)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

CCC (tall grandiflora type – white)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

Blue and white collection

Blue Danube (tall spencer type – mid-blue)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

Just Jenny (tall spencer type – navy blue)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

King Size Navy Blue (tall semi-grandiflora type – navy blue)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

Greenfingers (tall grandiflora type – cream with a violet edge)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

Adorabel (tall grandiflora type – lavender turning mauve blue)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

Dragonfly (tall semi-grandiflora type – cream marked with lavender)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

CCC (tall grandiflora type – white)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

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!

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To sow or not to sow? When is the right time to sow seeds for the flower garden?

At this time of year the spring sunshine is beginning to shine and you just want to get out in the fresh air and garden. But when is the right time to sow seeds to achieve that wonderful show of garden flowers throughout the year?

For us, sowing for this year began last June around the summer solstice. In mid-June we sow our biennials. These are plants that develop in the first year, grow on to develop good root systems and survive outside in the winter weather with few problems. Biennials will give a good early show of colour when they flower the following year. There are some wonderful flowers for cutting and fragrance in this group which include the foxgloves, Hesperis (sweet rocket), some Campanulas, wallflowers and of course Sweet William. Our biennials are ready for planting out into the flower garden by September so that they develop strong root systems to allow them to over winter.

Sweet William
Sweet William
Wallflower 'Blood Red'
Wallflower ‘Blood Red’

Our second sowing period is around the autumn equinox. By mid-September we like to have sown our hardy annuals. Hardy annuals are tough enough to over winter so that they are already decent sized plants by the spring. This gives you a head start and results in much earlier flowering. The aim is to sow your hardy annuals late enough so that they don’t try to flower before the winter but earlier enough that the plants are large enough to survive the cold. We tend to over winter most of our hardy annuals under glass but some can grow on outside quite happily. The hardy annuals we grow include the likes of Nigella, larkspur, cornflowers, corncockle, feverfew, Ridolflia and some annual Scabious. Antirrhinums and Bupleurum may not be considered hardy annuals but we find that they do over winter in an unheated greenhouse if you are lucky.

Nigella damascena
Nigella damascena
Larkspur 'Braveheart'
Larkspur ‘Braveheart’
Cornflower 'Blue Diadem'
Cornflower ‘Blue Diadem’

Our first sowing of half hardy and tender annuals is usually complete by the spring equinox. We get many annuals started indoors in the heat and grow them on under lights until they can be moved out into the greenhouse and polytunnels. These will not find their way out into the garden until after all risk of frost has passed. The list we grow is too long to include here but some of our favourites include Cosmos, Salvias, Amaranthus, Ageratum, Didiscus, Rubeckias, Malope and many many more.

Pictures of the flowers we grow can be found on our Pinterest Boards in the monthly flower libraries. After the spring equinox we will sow further batches to ensure that we get a good succession of both hardy and half hardy annuals. It is possible to sow directly into the ground when the ground warms up but we find we have too many failures that way. Instead we grow in trays and modules and plant out when the weather is kinder and the plants are well established.

Ageratum 'Blue Horizon'
Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’
Didiscus
Didiscus
Rudbeckia
Rudbeckia

It is fair to say therefore that sowing does not really begin in the spring but instead in mid-summer and we find the summer solstice and autumn and spring equinox a good way to plan our year.