Sniffing the first sweet pea of the year is one of gardening’s great pleasures, and it really lifts the spirits. Nearly all annual sweet peas offer a fabulous fragrance, but some are stronger than others.
There are dozens of varieties, and seed of more than 80 named varieties, mixes or collections are available from Unwins Seeds. This old established seed firm was the first to popularize the sweet pea over a century ago, and it has been at the forefront of breeding ever since.
Unwins has also just launched the first ever bedding sweet pea: ‘Cherub Northern Lights’ (which only grows to 20cm/8in in height!
Don’t forget, too, the Unwins popular Sweet Pea Grower’s Propagator Kit – everything you need to start off and grow the best sweet pea flowers ever!
Those of us who grow sweet peas tend to fall into one of two camps. Some gardeners are deadly serious about our plants – sowing in the autumn, overwintering the seedlings, and growing them on so they flower a month or so earlier than the spring-sown types.
However, the vast majority of us buy our seeds around now, and get them growing for flowering in four or five months’ time. And there is nothing wrong with this – it is certainly the easiest way!
Sweet peas sown now will grow happily through trellises, and up garden arches and obelisks. I’ve even seen them growing up through light and airy shrubs, but if you choose to grow them this way many of the blooms will be hidden from view by the shrub foliage, and this defeats the object somewhat.
All seed packets give full instructions on the backs. Follow these guidelines, and you won’t go far wrong!
Final tip: Sweet pea seeds have a hard outer coat. For this reason many gardeners soak them overnight, to soften them, before sowing. An alternative is to lightly roughen the seed coat with sandpaper, a nail file or some other abrasive. In days gone by, gardeners would lightly ‘nick’ the seed with a sharp knife – but this is inherently risky as if you cut too deeply you’ll damage the embryo seed inside, and if you’re not careful you could slip and damage yourself!