For me, sweet peas are one of the real joys of summer. The sweet pea’s frilly flowers have a powerful yet serene fragrance, which gently envelops the garden in its loveliness. The scent of sweet peas can fill your home too; they’re very floriferous plants that produce excellent cut flowers.
Sweet peas, also known by their botanical name of Lathyrus odoratus, are very accommodating – you can sow their seeds in September, though better still sow in late October, and at any time up until March, or even April at a push. Sweet pea growers can look forward to enjoying bunches of sweet pea flowers from May until October, depending on their sowing time and the weather conditions.
In 2015 I ran a Sweet Pea Trial to try to establish when the best time was to sow sweet peas, to achieve the most flowers, and the longest length of flower stems. My 2016 Sweet Pea Trial evaluates the time of sowing, the number of flowers produced, and the stem length of the flowers. In my 2016 trial I have also compared different methods of growing sweet peas.
I don’t scarify my sweet pea seeds before sowing. I have never felt the need to chip, nick, scratch, or abrade the sweet pea seed’s outer coating. I have scarified other seeds that have very hard outer casings with success, and in these cases, I have found scarification necessary to artificially break the seed’s dormancy. But I have always had concerns about damaging my sweet pea seeds using scarification, and having achieved high rates of germination without any prior seed treatment, I have never felt the need.
I also don’t find it necessary to soak sweet pea seeds in water prior to sowing. I have steeped my sweet pea seeds in liquid paraffin, for a few moments prior to sowing, to deter mice from taking the seeds. But other than this, I have not found it necessary to pre-soak sweet pea seeds.
It is not necessary to use compost that includes peat to grow sweet peas. I have always achieved excellent results, growing my sweet peas in peat free compost. For my 2016 Sweet Pea Trial I used Dalefoot Potting Compost, a peat free compost made from natural ingredients, including sheep’s wool. The wool’s natural absorbency provides beneficial water retention, meaning this compost doesn’t need watering as frequently – which is great if, like me, you find watering hard work.
I grow my sweet peas in Deep Rootrainers – deep seed trays, which feature ridged cells, which have been specially designed to encourage the formation of strong, healthy roots. Each section of a Rootrainers tray is removable. The sections unfold and open out like a book, allowing easy examination of the plant’s root system as it develops, and ensuring the straightforward removal of your seedlings when it comes to planting. Seedlings grown in Rootrainers have their roots directed to grow vertically, meaning that Rootrainers seedlings are never pot bound. As there is no need to tease out or separate the plant’s roots prior to planting, the roots remain intact and the plants establish readily when planted.
I use the Rootrainers Racking Station, which is a great space saver – it holds eight packs of Deep Rootrainers over two levels. The Rootrainers Racking Station holds the Rootrainers off the ground, allowing air circulation under the roots of the seedlings, which further encourages the natural air pruning of the roots that all plants grown in Rootrainers benefit from.
There is a huge array of sweet pea varieties to choose from, in a vast range of colours, from pretty pastels to vibrant reds, blues and pink coloured flowers, so whatever your style or colour scheme, whether you look through seed catalogues or online, you’re bound to find a new favourite sweet pea to grow.
Lathyrus odoratus ‘Naomi Nazareth’ has consistently been one of the best performing sweet pea varieties in my trials. I am not usually a fan of blue coloured flowers, but L. odoratus ‘Naomi Nazareth’ has touched my heart with its dusky, pale blue flowers, which would combine perfectly in any vintage-themed arrangement. L. odoratus ‘Naomi Nazareth’ was raised by Roger Parsons, this sweet pea blooms early in the season, readily producing beautiful, pale blue, sweetly scented, ruffled flowers.
If you’re looking for something a bit different, L. odoratus ‘Earl Grey’ is a maroon and violet bicolour flaked over a white ground. L. odoratus ‘Earl Grey’ flowers prolifically, producing a large number of striking flowers throughout the summer, which you cannot fail to notice!
Lathyrus odoratus ‘Windsor’ is another floriferous sweet pea. Its large, rich, maroon-chocolate coloured flowers have enchanted many hearts.
Lathyrus odoratus ‘Susan Burgess’ produces deep, blush pink coloured flowers that enrich to salmon pink if grown under glass. I grow L. odoratus ‘Susan Burgess’ outdoors, where I also find that the weather and temperature affect the flower colour, resulting in a pleasing variety of flowers, in subtle, differing tones of blush pink.
Lathyrus odoratus ‘Aphrodite’ is very vigorous white flowered sweet pea, which can produce up to fifteen flowers on each stem! This year L. odoratus ‘Aphrodite’ hasn’t produced as many flowers per stem for me, but I have still found it to be a floriferous and long-stemmed variety.
I found 2016 to be a difficult year for growing sweet peas. Despite featuring a greater number of sweet pea plants in my 2016 trial, my plants have produced far fewer flowers than I harvested during 2015 – a real shame. Still, I am sure that 2017 will be a great year, with better weather conditions to grow sweet peas! I am looking forward to sowing my sweet pea seeds, and enjoying their elegant and charming flowers once again in 2017.
You can see more details on Sweet Pea growing methods, and the full results of my 2015 and 2016 Sweet Pea Trials on my website www.pumpkinbeth.com where you’ll also find gardening advice for the month ahead, and much more besides.