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: Stewwydablue
Advantages: Easy to grow climbing plant, smell wonderful
Disadvantages: Mice love the seeds
Amongst the utilitarian atmosphere of my "mainly for veg" garden, I have made a few concessions for plants that can't be eaten but instead please the eye and nostrils. Actually, I haven't made these concessions, my wife has forced my hand by threats of violence into mixing some aesthetically pleasing plants amongst the herbs and veggies! One such plant that I grow for purely the look and smell of them are sweet peas, they look great and smell sweet enough to get your taste buds tingling - don't eat them though!
Thought to come from the eastern Mediterranean area, they are now spread throughout the world and recognised by many gardeners as being a worthwhile plant to grow as a treat for the senses. They are an annual plant, which effectively means they won't last over an English winter so new plants will have to be sown every year. I have a friend from Jamaica who calls sweet peas "pum pums" , named after a nickname for a part of the female anatomy that they resemble. I'll leave you to discover which part for yourself!
Growing your own
I start mine off indoors in February, but you can start them off in September / October the year before for a head start. When sown either in late winter or early autumn, sweet peas will need protection from frost, so either keep them on a sunny window sill or in a cold frame / heated greenhouse. I sow mine into peat pots which will rot when planted out into soil, as they don't like having their roots disturbed. These peat pots are kept inside on a sunny window sill until late March / early April when the plants should be big enough to survive any late frosts. I plant them out about six inches apart, next to a wall that is covered in netting for the plants to climb up. You can pinch out the top two growing leaves for a smaller, bushier plant or just leave them to be more tall and leggy.
They can be sown directly outside in late April / early May. When sowing from seed, I soak the seeds overnight in tepid water to help get them started, then the next day I only plant the seeds which have swollen and bin the ones which haven't.
I saw someone on a gardening programme once start off sweet peas in an old length of guttering, then when they had about four leaves, he carefully slid out the contents of the gutter into a pre dug shallow trench. This method seemed to be a good idea, but I've never tried it so can't comment on it's effectiveness.
Pests and Diseases
If you've sown the seeds directly outside as the weather starts to warm up, you might discover one morning that you don't have any seeds left - mice absolutely love the seeds! If you have a cat, you may want to risk planting them directly outside from seed, otherwise just start them off indoors and them plant them out as mice lose interest once the seed has germinated.
Other pests which will go after your sweet peas include greenflies and pollen beetles. Greenflies can be treated with either chemical sprays or the more organic method of attracting ladybirds to your garden which will eat them. Pollen beetles don't really respond to chemical sprays, but an old bit of gardener's wisdom suggests that they can be enticed off your plants by placing a single light in your garden at night - they will be drawn to this and then can be squished by a vengeful thumb.
A disease which can affect sweet peas is the mosaic virus - spread by greenflies and pollen beetles. As they bite the plant, they open up wounds where the virus can enter. Mosaic virus will give your plants yellow mottled leaves, and the plant will stop flowering and eventually die off. Prevent it by preventing the insects which spread it.
Using Sweet peas
They respond well to being picked; the more flowers you pick, the more flowers will grow back. Pick the flowers off before they go to seed - once they start developing seed pods they will stop developing flowers. They last for about a week once cut in a vase with a spoonful of sugar in the water. Strip the stems of any leaves which will be in the water in the vase - these will rot if left on and the water will smell like a drain. You can get all sorts of coloured sweet peas, and they all smell fairly similar - extremely sweet and perfumey, they brighten the room when in a vase.
Despite their similarity to edible garden peas, the pods or seeds of sweet peas must never be eaten as they are quite toxic. If you've got kids, be sure to explain this difference to them.
These fragrant, intricate and pretty flowers are brilliant for growing as a cut flower to inject a bit of the outdoors into an indoor room, and if you grow your own from seed to cut rather than buying bouquets from a florist you will save a small fortune. Enjoy!
Summary: Mother nature's best perfume
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