Sowing Sweet Peas
Sunday 27th December 2020
Today I sowed my sweet peas. I sowed them in root trainers in a mix of peat free compost and vermiculite about 1cm deep with vermiculite on top. I didn’t soak them as I have found in the past that they do fine without. Providing bottom heat speeds up germination, but I don't have electricity in my little unheated greenhouse. At this time of year germination takes around 24 days compared to 10 in October and 14 in March. When they get to be about 4-6 inches high I will pinch out the tips to make them branch. The covers are to stop the mice, they find sweet pea seeds irresistible.
Last year I did an experiment. I sowed one batch on the 3rd October, one on the 9th January and one on the 9th March. I found the October sown ones germinated the best, but I was then in a quandary at the beginning of March. They had run out of food and space in the root trainers and their leaves had started to yellow. I desperately needed to plant them out but it was too cold and frosty on this Welsh hillside to risk it. So, I planted them in the old greenhouse on the field. They grew fine until it got really hot in May and then, although they flowered, the stems where short and stumpy. Lesson learned; sweet peas have short stems when they get too hot. The first one flowered on the 4th May. I gave up trying to pick them on the 14th June as the stems were just too short.
I planted the January sown ones, outside, on the 17th April and the March sown ones on the 25th April. The January sown ones started to produce flowers at the beginning of June, the March sown ones about two weeks later, so not much in it, and some, like Charlies Angel produced flowers on the same day regardless of when they were planted. Both batches produced a similar number of flowers although the March sown ones developed mildew and shorter stems before the winter sown ones. Both carried on flowering until a really bad storm brought the supports down on the 25th August. The one obelisk that did survive was holding January sown sweet peas and managed to keep flowering until 16th September when I took them out to replace them with Cardoons. At that point I made the decision to do one sowing only, in winter. Of course, in a milder area, October sown planting may work for you.
In the past I always bought a mixed packet of sweet pea, because I wanted a mix of colours and I didn’t have much room in my suburban back garden. Buying individual named varieties was a revelation and gave me beautiful, strong flowers on incredibly long stems, some over eighteen inches (45cm) long. In the vase, sweet peas are a ephemeral joy, I have never managed to get a bunch to last more than 4 days from cutting, however, it doesn’t matter because the flowers are produced in abundance and the more you cut the more that grow. Last year I was particularly impressed with Our Harry and Charlie’s Angel both prolific and lovely blues, Mollie Rilstone, a pretty cream flower edged with pink and Blue Velvet, strong stems dark purple and a good grower. I found Nimbus intriguing but hard to match with anything. It is grey rippled with inky blue (far left on the picture above). Spanish dancer was pretty, but I got very few flowers and they were small, this was the same with Blue Shift. High Scent was strongly scented but I wasn’t in love with the colour of the flower. Judith Wilkinson was too artificial bright pink (just above Nimbus in the picture above), sorry Judith. Juliet and Jilly looked almost the same to me and very similar in colour to High Scent. I thought in the vase they looked quite a dingy cream. I am still searching for the perfect colour. This year I am growing Mollie Rilstone again, and a few of last years seed I had left over; Charlies Angel, Valerie Harrod and Blue Velvet. I am also giving the following a try. All from Johnson’s seeds. John Grey (salmon pink on white), Invicta (white), April in Paris (pink, cream and white), Alison (pale cream, pink picotee), Just Julia (mid-blue), Wiltshire Ripple (chocolate stripe), Su Pollard (bright pink), Noel Sutton (mid-blue). They are all Spencer varieties, apart from April in Paris, which is semi-grandiflora. Spencer's have large flowers with wavy petals and long stems for cutting. According to Roger Parsons, semi-grandifloras have wavy petals and long stems, like Spencers, but retain the fragrance and performance of the grandifloras. Sounds good. Sitting here looking at the tree branches rimmed with hoar frost and the clumps of snow on the ground, I am imagining walking down a row of sweet peas, on a summer's morning, breathing in the heady perfume, with a pair of flower snippers in my hand. Heaven.
- The Start of the Journey (18th August 2019)
- The Making of a Flower Farm (14th May 2020)
- Hoglets and other Wildlife (22nd June 2020)
- Polytunnel Preparation (15th October 2020)
- Building a Polytunnel on a Slope (14th November 2020)
- Making a Dried Flower Wreath (18th December 2020)
- Sowing Sweet Peas (27th December 2020)
- Organising Seeds (2nd March 2021)
- In Love with the Lent Lily (20th March 2021)
- Tulip Exotic Emperor (25th April 2021)
- Keeping Snapdragons Straight (9th September 2021)