Sweet Peas


My father grew sweet peas, and I remember the ritual of nicking the seed and then soaking them in water overnight before sowing them individually in 5 inch long tubes made from rolled up newspaper. Unwins nowadays advise not to nick and not to soak, so I don’t, but I’ve not noticed any great difference – there are still a few varieties that are very shy about germinating. The books say that Autumn is the best time too sow Sweet peas and then over winter when in a cold frame before planting out in April. I’ve tried this for the past two years, sowing at the beginning of October, and found them to flower earlier, and to keep going for as long as spring grown seed.


I used to use sweet pea tubes, but now sow five seeds around the edge of a 5 inch pot. A year ago, mice had most of the seed, then small slugs devoured the few shoots that did appear. This year touch wood, the pests have gone elsewhere. When it comes to planting out, each little plant is carefully unravelled; the roots can be a foot long. A deep slit is made in a well-manured trench and each plant dropped in, 3 to the foot, and the roots covered. This is best done when the soil is moist but not wet.


For those who have not sown theirs yet, all is not lost – most people sow in the Spring, anyway. Seed can be started indoors in February and March, gradually hardened off, and planted out in May. Spring grown Sweet Peas need to have their tips removed when they’ve made three pairs of leaves. I grow mine up 2 metre high bean netting, It is vital to remove all spent blooms, because if they form pea pods, the plants think their job is over and die off rapidly. When they reach the top, they can be reduced in height by a quarter and after a week there’s a new flowering; this cutting back can be repeated to prolong flowering into September.


My father used to remove side shoots and the tendrils, but it’s very time consuming – only worth doing if you want to exhibit blooms. If you want lots of flowers on the plant and good length stems to pick, it’s important to keep the roots moist at all times. Pollen beetles can be troublesome; they don’t do any harm – just look unsightly.


There are many varieties, short to tall, and differing shapes of flower. The showiest often have no smell. There are several old fashioned varieties available, with shorter stems and smaller flowers and a magnificent perfume when you pass by. Sweet Peas when cut last only a few days, but bring a lot of joy. They are something you can’t buy in a shop.


by Peter Block

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