Sweet [pea] memories
Whenever I grow sweet peas I am transported to one of my earliest gardening memories, at the age of ten, helping dad tie up his sweet peas to long bamboo canes, but more of that later. During the first week in January I sowed my sweet peas, rewarding cut flowers, with beautiful scent. Their cut flower life is not long but plants produce blooms continuously for months. So, if you have not grown them before then give them a try. Seeds can be sown at any time from October to April, but the sooner you start the earlier they bloom, so January is perfect. This is not only because you will get earlier blooms but also because growing areas that offer protection from the worst of the winter weather will be under increasing demand from other plants.
Sweet pea seeds are as hard as lead shot and because of this there are numerous methods to tempt them to germinate. The method I find successful is simply placing them in a shallow dish of moist tissue in the kitchen. After three days the seeds will doubled in size as they absorb water, and their emerging roots should be visible.
Then place the germinating seeds into pots as per the sowing instructions on the packet. When plants are large enough to handle pot them individually, or place several in a 13cm pot and place short hazel twigs amongst the plants stop them flopping over. During the winter months seeds and plants benefit from some protection either on a cool, light windowsill, cold glasshouse or coldframe.
Importantly, a light and cool environment is best to avoid plants becoming spindly. When they reach two pairs of leaves, remove their growing tips allowing them to branch. From mid-March plants can be transferred into their final positions when sufficiently large enough. They can then be planted alongside a structure for them to scramble up, or if you want better flowers, positioned individually beside bamboo canes.
I learnt from dad how to achieve the best blooms with the longest stems. After planting out let them establish for a few weeks, then select the strongest side shoot and tie it to the cane. Remove all other side shoots and all tendrils (the twining structures that support the climber). As the plant grows tie to the cane and continue removing tendrils, side shoots and blooms that have passed their best. Once plants reach the top of the cane carefully untie the entire plant, lay it along the ground and position the growing tip at the base of another cane. The plant should then be trained as described previously and bloom continuously. The method described above is more time consuming but rewarding. A wealth of information about growing sweet peas can be viewed from the website of the National Sweet Pea Society www.sweetpeas.org.uk.