Having spent a fab day wandering round the Natural History Museum with my three year old, well, when I say wandering, I mean rushing from one button to press to the next wheel to turn, as a three year old does! My family and I went to visit the stunning poppy installation at The Tower of London, more of that on our latest news, later in the month! Having been tourists for a while it was really lovely to settle down to lunch with a twitter chum and fellow British Flowers enthusiast Shamini, from Flowers by Shamini. As you can imagine talk soon turned to floweryness. Talking about our successes and favourites, firsts and lasts! Shamini has decided she can’t get on with Cleomes, one of my faves, so gave me some Cleome seeds. She also gave me some sweet pea seeds she had collected herself. Very exciting! So I’ve set to planting them, perfect timing as I had this blog post to write, floral serendipity at work again!
So the idea is that by planting some of your sweet pea seeds in the Autumn (October – November) you can get an earlier flowering next year. It’s a good idea to save some of your sweet pea seeds to plant in the Spring (February – April) also though. It works as successional sowing, but also as a fall back plan should anything go awry with your Autumn sown seeds. If anything does go wrong, it’s usually mouse or slug related. Mice love sweet pea seeds, especially as they are just germinating! Slugs prefer the new young shoots, so protect as appropriate for the stage of growth.
I am a relative new-comer to growing sweet peas, mostly due to the fact that I have a neighbour who grows them to prize winning standard, and indeed judges sweet peas for both the National Sweet Pea Society and the RHS. As he sells his ‘spares’ locally there was little reason for me to grow them. I have however always loved the scent of them and so grew a few plants for my own home vases this year. What generous plants they are, the more you pick the more they flower. That can be said for many cut flower plants, but sweet peas seem especially abundant! In fact I’ve heard some British Flower Growers moan towards the end of the sweet pea season that they are fed up of the constant harvesting, but then they most likely have a ‘few’ more plants than me, or you in your school garden!
They are easy to grow, mine were sown by a young friend of mine, in fact it was the first time he had sown a flower seed. Due to the size of the seed it makes it nice and simple for even small children to sow. Although if you want to grow to competition standard there are lots of stages to tieing in and supporting the growth, for most growers, they are relatively simple. Provide them with something to scramble up and they will quite happily. I used hazel poles formed into a triangular frame, but some growers use a teepee of sticks, or green pea & bean netting.
Where to sow? Some advise to sow into toilet roll tubes, in fact I have also advised this in the past. However I am beginning to change my mind about this method. The card tubes can either dry out too much or become mouldy, which in itself is not too serious but when working with young people it is better safe than sorry, plus who wants mould in their cold frames, greenhouses etc! So this time I am sowing into compost in normal plastic plants pots, the taller the better, as sweet peas do like a nice long root run. Sow two to four seeds per pot, depending on the size of the pot, push the seeds about 3cms into the compost, cover back over with compost, water and label the pots with the name of the seed and the date of sowing. It’s also a good idea to write on the label how many seeds you have sown per pot. Then you can work out how many have germinated later. You may think it’s not worth labelling every pot, but believe me it is! Pots often get moved around, and it’s so easy to lose track of what’s what, but if each pot is individually labelled that won’t be a problem. Keep your seed pots in a frost free greenhouse, cold frame or in a protected space outside. Keep an eye out for mice, or protect against them in the manner you see fit. One grower has had success in the mouse wars by spreading holly branches over her pots, they proved too spiky for the mice, and they left her seed pots alone, having previously devoured the unprotected pots. Others have placed their pots on a shelf suspended from the bars of their polytunnel, and this seems to have defeated the mice who have obviously not watched Mission Impossible! Let us know what ingenious methods you come up with to protect your sweet peas from your local mice population. I might try chilli flakes this year, as I’ve heard that mice don’t like them!
Pinch out the main growing stem after you see two pairs of true leaves, this is to promote side shoot formation, which will give you buckets more blooms to sell to raise money for your school garden group.
Then apart from keeping an eye out for slugs as the weather improves, and checking on them occasionally to make sure they have not dried out too much, the soil should be just moist, rather than damp or soggy, there is not too much to do until next year, when it comes time for planting out, usually in March or April, but be guided more by your weather than a strict calendar date. Plant out with plenty of organic matter or well rotted manure.
For more detailed information on sweet peas please see the National Sweet Pea Society.