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. It has been at the forefront of breeding ever since.
Some gardeners are deadly serious about plants. They will sow in the autumn, overwinter the seedlings and grow them on so they flower a month or so earlier than the spring-sown types.
However, the vast majority buy seeds around spring time for flowering in four or five months’ time.
Sweet peas sown in spring will grow happily through trellises and up garden arches and obelisks. If you choose to grow them this way many of the blooms will be hidden from view by the shrub foliage.
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. Some gardeners lightly ‘nick’ the seed with a sharp knife. However this is inherently risky as if you cut too deeply you’ll damage the embryo seed inside. Also, if you’re not careful you could slip and damage yourself!