Sweet peas have to be one of my all-time favourite flowers. They’re so easy to grow, look amazing and smell heavenly. A jam jar full of sweet peas on the kitchen table just says Summer!
I’ve been growing these flowers and saving their seeds for such a long time that I can’t actually remember our varieties, but something similar to Cupani, Lord Nelson, Hi-Scent, Heathcliff and Anniversary. All long stemmed, with an incredible scent and ranging from deep purple to pinky-white in colour. Sweet pea seeds and seedlings are widely available to buy and are a brilliantly abundant addition to any garden! I wouldn’t be without them……
A hardy annual climber, sweet peas like full sun and a good fertile soil. They can grow to around 6ft and will need support, either up a trellis or over an arch. We grow ours up hazel wigwams, tying them in periodically with string, but they can grow just as brilliantly in big pots on a balcony. Just remember that you need to be able pick the flowers, so easy access is required – the more you pick the more they grow! Sweet peas also attract lots of insect pollinators into your garden, so they really are a star performer.
Sowing: I begin sowing sweet peas in January into ‘root-trainers’ filled with a mixture of our own compost and a bit of peat-free shop bought stuff. Root-trainers are a type of container that encourages strong, long roots. Sweet peas don’t like having their roots disturbed when you plant them out, so these root-trainers are perfect. I buy mine from Tamar Organics and use the extra-long 20cm ones. Sow the seeds 2cm deep and leave in a light spot at around 15C. Germination usually takes about 10-15 days.
I don’t bother with soaking or chipping my seeds and have never had any problems with germination, however I know some people soak to determine the colour of their future flowers (!!) – apparently the darker flower seeds don’t swell. To be honest I love the higgledy-piggledy nature of all the colours in together and more importantly, I like to keep things simple….
Growing: Once the seedlings get going, I pinch out the tips to encourage strong side shoots and avoid too much weak, leggy growth. Wait for 2-3 leaf pairs or until they’re about 15cm tall before pinching off the tips between your fingers. Harden off and plant out after the last frosts at about 20-30cm apart. We plant ours in a circle around the wigwam and tie the young shoots into a string framework wound around the hazel supports.
Picking and pruning: The great thing about sweet peas is that the more flowers you pick, the more the flowers will grow! In fact, if you don’t pick the flowers they’ll quickly run to seed and the plant will start to die back, so pick, pick, pick and fill yours and all your neighbours and friends houses with the glorious smell of sweet peas!
It’s not necessary to prune them during the growing season, but remember to leave some of the flowers to go to seed, so that you can collect and save them for next year. By mid Autumn the plants will start to go brown and wither, just pull them up and put them on the compost heap. They’ll break down and be food for next years crop!
Biodynamic tips: To make use of these growing tips you’ll need a biodynamic gardening calendar. More details can be found here.
Sweet pea seeds are sown on a ‘flower’ day under a waxing moon ie: sometime between new and full moon, ideally as close to full moon as possible.
Pinch out the tips on a descending moon and also plant out on a descending moon to encourage fantastically strong roots and help the sweet peas get off to a flying start.
I try to pick the flowers on an ascending moon because they last longer in the vase, but they need such regular picking that it’s not always possible. Best to just pick and enjoy whenever you can!
Natural remedies: Aphids, particularly greenfly can be a problem with sweet peas – they obviously find them as irresistible as we do. If your plants are healthy then this shouldn’t pose too much of a problem, but if it does become an issue then marigold tea is amazing. Horsetail tea is another fantastic natural remedy that strengthens the sweet peas against aphid attack.
Sacrificial companion planting is also a great idea – I plant nasturtiums all over the garden (they self-seed like crazy) and aphids are very fond of them, which draws them away from the sweet peas. Hooray!
You can also encourage aphid-munching insects into the garden such as hoverflies, lacewings and ladybirds, by planting asters, marigolds and sedums nearby and by building a tempting house for them to live in. My children loved making a little ladybird ‘hotel’ for our allotment garden (I’ll write about that when I get a chance), but for now happy growing and happy gardening to you all.
Enjoy your sweet peas….