Gardening with Daphne Ledward

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The sweet pea smell of success

The few days of spring-like weather a couple of weeks ago got my horticultural blood coursing through my veins.

Unfortunately the days when I could take my coat off to work outside were –unsurprisingly for this time of year – very short-lived, and the dull, cold morning with a dusting of snow as I write this has sent me indoors and back into planning mode again.

Which is why I was so glad to receive an email from one of my young plant suppliers today that for a few days only they had an offer of half-price sweet pea plantlets.

It’s years since I grew this delightful cut flower seriously, and as this is, in fact, the Year of the Sweet Pea, on this depressing February morning it cheered me up no end to place an order which, will, hopefully, fill the garden and house with perfume for many weeks come summertime.

Alright, sweet peas are so easy to raise from seed, and there is such a huge choice of varieties, both to buy mail order and on the garden centre seed racks that there is no need to buy young plants, even if you’ve never grown them before, but professionally raised plantlets will, hopefully, produce flowers a little earlier than if I grew them from seed myself, and save some work at a time when just about everything at home and at the Patch is clamouring for my attention.

Dozens of books have been written on the subject of sweet peas, and some of these are guaranteed to frighten you off if you’ve never tried to grow them before, but most of these are aimed at the exhibition grower; for those of us who just like to be able to go out every day and pick a fresh bunch for the home or to give to a friend, producing plants couldn’t be easier.

You can either sow the seeds individually now in cardboard tubes – toilet roll tubes cut in half are ideal – filled with a good seed compost, in the greenhouse, conservatory or cold frame, or wait until late March or April and sow directly into the ground where you want them to flower, just as you would edible peas.

Soaking the seeds overnight in water helps the germination.