I’d love to tell you a romantic story about how I got into growing sweet peas but it was out of pure curiosity that I bought my first packet of seeds. In the almost five years I’ve had a garden to call my own I’ve been experimenting with what I can grow – sweet peas were the first proper flowering plant I managed to get success with (and by success I mean one bloom). Last years crop wasn’t the best but this year I feel like I’ve cracked it enough to share with the internet. The flowers in this post are all from my garden, I managed to get about 30/40 plants thriving and have been enjoying at least two bunches of flowers a week, which I don’t think is too bad considering I’ve had a new born and toddler to look after this sowing season. They smell absolutely amazing and are the most generous of plants – I’ll ever be without them.
Getting started –
You’ll need sweet pea seeds, my favs are High Scent and the 45p packets they sell in Lidl, ordinary potting compost, root trainers.
One of the things I love most about them is the large planting window, I start one lot off before Christmas (usually in that weird time between the clocks changing and when Christmas kicks off). To plant, it couldn’t be easier, I fill the root trainers with compost press down so the soil is the density of a sponge cake and pop the seeds in about a finger tip deep. I normally do two seeds per trainer and then water. I’ve tried all sorts of pots over the years from standard flower pots to loo rolls – but my favourites are root trainers or take away coffee cups. I keep potted seeds in my cold greenhouse over the winter and water about once a week. If you don’t have a greenhouse then one of these of these mini greenhouses would work or a cool windowsill.
Usually around Christmas leaves start to appear, when there are two true sets of leaves I start to pinch (or snip off) the growing shoots.
When this first set of plants starts growing out of the root trainers (you’ll see the roots poking out of the bottom of the pot), pot on into larger pots. Sweet peas have really long roots so I like to use the tall pots roses come in, depending on the size of the pots I’ll pot in about 4 plants per pot. Advice I’ve seen is not to cramp the plants but when I’ve run out of pots and had to add a few extra plants per pot it’s not done any harm and seems to make them grow stronger if anything – I just water more regularly.
When the clocks change back to springtime and the weather starts to warm up you’ll notice these first plants really start to grow fast. Around early April time I move these plants to the outside of the greenhouse to start to harden them off before planting in May when the frosts have gone, you’ll notice another growth spurt and then it’s time to plant outside.
After this initial planting I sow more batches of seeds throughout January, February and March when I have a few moments of spare time, following the same steps as above but planting the seedlings out when they are a bit smaller than the first crop.
For years the biggest mistake I made was not giving the plants something proper to grow up. This year I was given two frames for my birthday (I think these are really for tomatoes but I liked the shape and style of them) – for successful flowers they really do need something to climb up. I’ve also got a selection of handmade frames around the garden, long and thin like the above or more wigwam shaped – simply made with bamboo canes and string very roughly tied together. I got my metal frames from a local garden centre but search “metal obelisk” online and a whole host turn up – these ones look really simple and would suit all types of garden.
When planting the small plants in the ground, plant two per stick and make sure you tie in the growing stems as they go upwards otherwise you just end up with a tangle. Other thing I love about these plants is you can make a frame to fill even the smallest of spaces so if you are tight on space there are plenty of options to go up rather than outwards.
Another point to mention about growing is sowing seed direct. Last year the seeds I sowed directly into the ground at my allotment patch were fab, this year nothing has happened. From now on I’ll just sow into pots and if I have any seeds left I’ll pop into the ground about March time (weather depending). You can see my cut flower patch in bloom here.
When your plants are established and producing flowers its important to keep cutting the flowers to produce more and make they get watered on a regular basis. In this crazy hot summer we’ve been having, I’ve watered them about twice a week making sure I use up the left over paddling pool water to keep them hydrated.
Gardening can feel so intimidating but with anything creative the best way is to get started and see what happens. Happy growing (and scrolling!) x