Is there any flower more quintessentially part of the British cottage garden than the Sweet Pea. Those vibrant pick-and-mix colours, that scent. It speaks to me of sunshine, hazy days and a riot of colour climbing its way up a wigwam. The first proper posy full of sweet peas is one of the best treats of the summer.
It is truly one of my favourite flower so many different colours but in my opinion they have to have a good scent. The two best for this are ‘Cupani’ and ‘Painted Lady’, two superb varieties, smaller flowers than the more highly bred varieties but they make up for that in scent. Here at Higgledy Garden we also sell a number of single colour varieties all selected though with scent in mind! I like to try different varieties every year, here are the ones from this year.
It has to be said that this year was a tricky year for sweet peas, mine grew well initially but then suffered a bit in that early hot dry spell, they did have a bit of a renaissance once the rains came back but not a bumper year for me. They need plenty of water to keep them flowering well and like a good rich soil. They tend to flower on short stems if it gets dry and towards the end of the season but this doesn’t mean that you can’t keep picking them. Ben taught me about this, you just cut further down the plants and have stems, flowers and tendrils, this can be very lovely round the edge of bouquets.
I’ve found the best time to sow is in mid Autumn mid to end of October, but it will depend a little bit as to where you are in the country. When there is still some warmth to encourage germination but not too warm that they romp away and get too leggy and soft and susceptible to hard frosts. Believe me I’ve learnt the hard way! I sow into root trainers or square 9cm pots 2 seeds module of the root trainer or 2-3 per 9cm pot. I use Sylvagrow multipurpose peat free compost and have had excellent germination for many years. Some people say that you should soak them but I have never had to do that! I let them germinate in the greenhouse but once you can see those little green shoots (yes they still bring me a little squeal of delight) they can go outside. Grow them hard so they develop into short sturdy plants, pinch out if needed, maybe fleece them if a sustained hard frost is forecast. I plant mine out in early April, they can sit and sulk for a bit but soon settle down and start growing. A good tip to know when to plant is if you start seeing annual weeds germinating then you know the soil is warming up. The first shoots will need tying in to get them trained up whichever support that you prefer.
There can be a lot of debate about the best supports. I grow mine up an A-frame support but they can go a bit crazy when they get to the top of the support, where it narrows. Many growers recommend a circle of canes to make a column like structure so that they don’t all squash together when they get to the top. Or if you want to grow for shows then growing a single stem (cordon) up a tall cane. These last two types are best if you are growing for cutting. But honestly if you are growing them to have a mass of colour and fragrance in your garden then wigwams do look lovely and fit into a cottage garden scheme perfectly. Whatever you chose to grow them up, once they are flowering you must keep picking them, oh the hardship!! The more you pick the more they will flower, I’ve found best to do one big pick a week once they are up and running then by the time they are going over you will have more to pick.
I planted them in two places in my garden this year, the usual spot neat the greenhouse with lots of sun and also round the edges of my old chicken run. The greenhouse ones I thought I would try and remove tendrils (tendrils can twine round the sweet pea flower stems and bend them) but this did mean quite a lot more work in tying in and seemed to slow them down so I don’t think I’m going to bother again. For round the old chicken run I interspersed the sweet peas with Cobaea scandens the sweet peas flowered early and then the Cobaea took over and flowered from September. I was a bit sceptical that it would work but it has. Aphids can be a problem later in the season too but often if you are patient they can be sorted out by other insect predators like ladybirds and their larvae. I also had the joy one morning of watching a wren flit around the sweet peas around my old chicken run picking off insects.
Here at Higgledy Garden, Gemma and I have persuaded Ben to step away from the riotous medley of colours that he most enjoys and to select some combinations of our favourite varieties into colour coordinated bundles.
Gemma has chosen a vibrant mix of summer fruit colours. Shades of Blackcurrant and Raspberry. Sweet pea ‘Beaujolais’, ‘Cupani’, Winston Churchill’, ‘Starry Night’ and ‘Noel Sutton’
Mine is more of a dreamy pastel shades with Sweet pea ‘Leamington’, ‘Swan Lake’, ‘Flagship’, ‘Perfume Delight’ and ‘Alan Williams’.
We have knocked 20% off the price and we will also add a free, packet of Sweet pea ‘Mammoth’ for you to enjoy!