Newest Review: ... them off in September / October the year before for a head start. When sown either in late winter or early autumn, sweet peas will ne... more
Member Name: QueenElf
Advantages: Lots of lovely flowers, lovely scent, easy to grow, long-lasting.
Disadvantages: Needs some support.
Each day over the last few weeks I've had a room full of delicately balanced aroma far more subtle and consistent than any shop-bought air freshener. I'm talking about one of Nature's own special perfumes, the scented Sweet Pea, or Lathyrus to give it its Latin name. When picked early in the morning, stood up to the flower's neck for a short while and then placed in a vase, these gorgeous flowers will scent a room all day and most of the next.
There are many varieties of Sweet Pea and each has it's own scent, but most are fresh and quite delicate reminding me of cottage gardens and my late mother's garden in particular.
Once the cut flowers start to wilt you can soon top them up with fresh flowers from your garden, as one thing these plants do is to flower profusely, seeming to bloom almost at will. Of course you may find that your cut blooms will last quite a few days and at the height of the growth cycle you could have arms full of flowers to scent the whole house! So how hard is it to grow these flowers?
Sweet Peas are hardy annuals that mean they tolerate spring frosts and therefore can be planted out quite early in the year. The debate about seed growing versus buying plug plants is one that comes down to how confident you feel. Personally I've tried both but have found them so easy to grow from seed that I would recommend this for most of the plant types.
Generally these fall into either category of tall or dwarf plants with a little variation in height on both sides. I like the tall type and this year I've grown about twenty plants reaching five to seven feet in height. This is a good average for plants that can range from six to ten feet.
If this seems too tall for your garden then the dwarf variety will suit you more. These can be planted into beds, borders, containers and even hanging baskets and don't normally require support. All Sweet Peas throw out tiny or large tendrils though, so allow for the possibility of a plant twining around a nearby plant.
If growing by seed then buy early, as the seeds will germinate quite rapidly on a cool indoor windowsill, or in a sheltered spot outdoors. I start mine off in early March on my bathroom window, as this is the one room that doesn't fluctuate in temperature too much. I use a small amount of John Innes seed compost for most of my seeds though I have been lucky with general compost. The seeds are like small-shriveled brown peas and are quite hard to touch. You can soak them for a few hours before planting, but I usually score mine slightly with a blade to allow water to get inside. I sow about twenty in two trays, about a half-inch deep and two inches apart. The first two leaves appear about four to five days later and, with the good spring weather we've been having these last few years, the first 'true' leaves appear in another few days. This year my seedlings were six inches tall after two weeks and ready to plant outside.
The other option is planting in the ground, though this can be a bit trickier as slugs love the young seedlings. Then there is the options of support, which vary from walls, trellis or by using the method of the 'wigwam' a circle of either bamboo canes or tall twiggy sticks (I use old cuttings from a bush). With stick or cane support the circular method works best as you can easily grow the plants against netting stretched around the poles. Ordinary vegetable mesh works fine and is very cheap. Don't bother going to the expense of buying special supports. They may look good but the Sweet Pea plants soon cover them and often chose another path to take. My wigwam worked well until the plants reached four feet and then they wandered off and trailed around my rose bush.
This really depends on where you want to grow your plants, how much space you have and how much sun they will get. Sweet Peas' love sun but like cool roots if possible. Tall plants need space but will happily trail along a fence, trellis, walls etc. They're sociable plants so can go in with vegetables as well. I remember my mother growing hers in a long line strung up on plain old brown string sharing space with her green beans.
These were the tall Sweet Peas and come in mixed colors, one color only, with the classic shape. This is one petal standing upright with two 'wing' petals. I find that most things nowadays have become far too specialized in many ways. Some of the tall plants have names like 'Royal Wedding' and 'Swan Lake.'
The dwarf varieties are 'Bijou' 'Cupid' and 'Patio' to name a few.
With the dwarf plants growing from one foot to about three feet, these are better for pots, containers or hanging baskets, where they will trail with the minimum of support.
Color choices are white, pink, mauve, purple, lavender, maroon, purple, blue, red, crimson and lavender. Mine are all various shades of pastel and look lovely whether they are in my garden or in a vase, the morning dew still glistening on the petals, reminding me that sometimes 'simple pleasures' are priceless.
Sweet Peas are lovely and despite the need for some planning, grow without much fussing. Expect to pay about 1 to 3 pounds for seeds depending if you buy a brand name. I buy Wilkinson's own at about 1 pound for thirty seeds.
Garden Center plants can cost about 4 to 6 pounds for a tray of six. Often they don't transplant well into the garden and disturbed soil can attract pests more.
Don't forget to cut regularly and deadhead your flowers, also cutting off the pods that still develop much like ordinary pea pods. Then you'll be enjoying bunches of flowers until the end of the flowering season.
ŠLisa Fuller 1.8.2011.
Summary: One of the best of the 'cottage garden' style plants.
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