Sweet Peas On My Mind
January 11, 2021
The fragrance of sweet peas, as distinct a fragrance as that of Lily of the Valley or Viola odorata, wafts in and out of my January garden dreams. In New England, it is the dreams of the next season's garden which keep the mind active while the gardener's hands are somewhat idle. The only exercise the hands are getting these days is in the turning of plant catalog pages and searching for information on the internet to improve the success of the next garden. Revisiting the photos of those gardens which I have visited in the past also provides inspiration for Garden 2021. I have been fortunate to travel to the gardening capitol of the world, the UK. Yes, I stand firm on this point. Gardening in the UK is a national past time and the proof is in the publication of the National Garden Scheme Handbook which lists over 3,700 gardens, both public and private, within the UK which are open for visits during specific times during the year. Our comparable organization, The Garden Conservancy, is close to having the same amount of featured gardens in our country which is 40 times larger with 11 out of 50 states that are bigger than the UK. I digress, back to sweet peas. I did grow them in 2019 with some success. Sweet peas are a cool annual, vining flowering plant, Lathyrus odoratus. Brought to serious cultivation in the UK in the early 1700's after their discovery on an island in the Mediterranean, I can only imagine it was the fragrance which captivated the plant explorer who happened upon them. You can read more about the history of the development and breeding of sweet peas here on Sarah Raven's blog if you so choose. Many of the large private gardens which I have visited in England grow sweet peas as we here in the US grow zucchini. One would never complain about an abundance of sweet peas. When I grew them I planted them along the fence on poles attached to a top support. They grew fairly well and I did have an abundance of flowers but this year I have ordered my seeds from Owl's Acre who offer exhibition Spencer varieties-yes the very Spencer family of the famous Princess Diana. These varieties have longer stems which are easier to cut and make a better bouquet. They do come in a wide range of delicious colors. From chardonnay through merlot, the allure of the sweet pea is hard to resist. Sweet peas require a fertile, well drained soil and with hardening off, will tolerate frost. They need attention to watering through dry spells and they are heavy feeders although nitrogen should be the more limited element in a complete fertilizer. I will use Fish/Seaweed fertilizer for a liquid feed. I planted the sweet peas out at the end of April in 2019 but this year, I will aim for an earlier planting date. Planting any early crop is very weather dependent here in New England as there can still be a bit of snow on the ground or frost in the ground. Instead of the single angled support, I will adopt this tee pee shaped support. It is attractive as well as functional and gives the gardener access to cutting and viewing from both sides. Sweet peas can also be grown on tripods which are freestanding in the garden or you could put a tripod in a large container on your patio for an up close scentsational experience. Hey, that is a good idea and one which I will employ if I don't forget. I have seen sweet peas for sale in pots at garden centers in the spring so if you are not willing or don't have the time and space for growing plants from seed, you can buy the plants and pot them up yourself for a wonderfully fragrant addition to the patio or back door step. I will start my seeds around the first of March on heat mats and under lights in the basement. Sweet peas have a thick seed coat and many experts advise soaking the seeds or nicking them with an emery board or file. I find that less is more and even soaking is not required. They have germinated quite well without that added step. There is much instruction to be found on line for the growing of sweet peas but I did find this little gem written by George Ball in the 1900's on growing sweet peas for production. If you are truly enthusiastic and want to have an abundance of sweet peas, you will find great information in this publication which can also be purchased here on Amazon.
Sweet peas are on my mind, in my heart and with luck, in the garden growing this coming season. There is no more perfect garden than the one in the imagination.