What are the best Sweet peas to grow?
The sweet pea, Lathyrus odoratus, is one of the most beloved of flowers, and it really deserves to be, with its pretty blossoms and wonderful, sweet scent! You can plant your sweet pea seeds now for early Spring flowering and all through the cold, windy, dark winter you can look forward to picking these beautifully scented flowers when Spring finally arrives.
The sweet pea is a climbing annual. Its ancestry can be traced back to Sicily - a Sicilian monk, Franciscus Cupani sent seeds to a botanist in Amsterdam (and it is thought also to an English scholar) in 1699. The original sweet pea was a purple/maroon bi-colour. Sweet pea seed was already available commercially in the early 1700s and the sweet pea has been popular ever since.
The flower of the sweet pea is typical of the many members of the pea family (Fabaceae). Each flower has one large, upright, roundish petal which is called the banner or standard, two narrow side petals known as the wings, and two lower petals that together are known as the keel.
The lovely fragrance of the sweet pea is one of the things that makes it so popular, along with the fact that the pretty flowers are long-lasting as cut flowers. In sweet peas, the blue colours are more fragrant than the red colours, and fragrance intensifies under cooler weather conditions. You can influence the colour and smell of your sweet peas by adding Epsom salts (the active ingredient is magnesium) to increase colour intensity and perfume.
The main enemies of a good sweet pea crop are slugs and snails gobbling up your shoots before they have had time to grow, aphid attack, or powdery mildew in warmer weather. Sweet peas also have brittle stems, so taller types will need a climbing support.
Sowing your sweet peas now (in Autumn/Winter) will allow your plants to make plenty of leaf growth, then in Spring when the temperatures are warm enough the plants will produce plenty of flowers. You can also sow in Spring, for flowering at the end of summer.
Sweet Pea seed has a hard outer coating. Because it is dry and dormant, it will assist germination if you soak your seed for 4-6 hours (or overnight) to rehydrate it. Choose a sunny position for your sweet peas, with free draining, fertile soil, prepared with compost and a heavy dressing of lime. Make sure there is something for them to climb - a trellis or frame - sweet peas are excellent climbers. You can also get dwarf sweet peas, which make excellent trailing plants for baskets - and how pretty!
Direct sow your seed - sweet peas don't like being transplanted. To sow, press two seeds into the same spot and space these sowings 15 cms apart. Water well and remember to protect your emerging seedlings from slugs and snails. Once seedlings are about 5-10cm high pinch the tips to encourage strong side shoots. Sweet pea vines have tendrils and will easily attach themselves to the support you have provided. Don't forget that they need regular watering, especially as the temperature increases.
To ensure a continuous supply of flowers over many weeks keep picking the flowers and remove any spent blooms.
One of the world's most renowned Sweet Pea breeders is British-born New Zealander, Dr Keith Hammett, who has bred many new Sweet Pea varieties and developed new colour patterns.
Don't eat sweet pea flowers. They are poisonous. Enjoy them in the garden or in the vase, but keep them away from your plate.
Good luck with your sweet peas!
It is great to see that you are visiting our Facebook page....keep the photos, comments and anecdotes coming in - we love to hear from you!