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Sweet Peas

The heady old-fashioned scent of sweet peas conjures up summery memories for many people. When I was a child I was not normally allowed to pick flowers, but my great-aunt grew sweet peas and I was allowed to pick huge bunches and I would bury my nose into them and inhale the heady sweet fragrance.

They are very easy to grow and you will get a lot of pleasure from them so I would encourage anyone to have a go.

First choose your seed. I really believe that it is pointless growing a sweet pea for anything other than its perfume. The new varieties are all well and good with their gigantic long stems and multi headed flowers but they simply do not match up to the old fashioned types from 17th century Italy or 18th and 19th Century England.

Sweet peas will happily grow in a large pot or container, in the ground in your garden or on an allotment or in a kitchen garden. Insects love them and if you are attracting these to your garden you will automatically be introducing pollinators to your other plants. They do need sunshine to thrive, so make sure they get plenty.

I have a fairly casual approach to sowing my seed. It is advised that you soak the hard little balls in a cup of water overnight, but I stick them straight into normal multipurpose compost and plant extra seed for luck. As a rule of thumb use two seeds per pot. You can use plastic root trainers, as they allow the seedlings to grow long roots. Or you can do as I do, and use recycled toilet roll tubes as these can be planted straight into the ground later on and the cardboard simply rots away.

I love the moment that you see a teeny shoot of green appearing out of the compost. I never stop being amazed by the wonderment of tiny seeds producing plants and I keep them on my kitchen windowsill so I can keep an eye on their progress. Germination should take around 1-2 weeks depending on the temperature. They will get tall and leggy unless you boldly nip off the growing tip with your fingers once they have 3-4 pairs of leaves.

You will know when it’s time to plant them out. March is the ideal time, but if it rains as it has done lately, hold off until the air feels a bit warmer and the ground is not waterlogged. Either tie canes together to create a tepee shaped support or you can grow them up an obelisk or arch. Push the legs of your support well into the soil and plant each one with a couple of your plants and gently tie in with string.

If you want to grow yours in a container, simply push bamboo canes around the inside of the pot and tie the tops together with string. Make sure that the container is large enough and deep enough and water regularly.

They like to be fed with either Comfrey pellets, or a liquid feed once a week to encourage flowering. Obviously if the weather is dry, make sure to water them. Soon you will be rewarded with drifts of beautiful scented flowers and these will need picking almost every day. The more you pick, the more you get and I usually end up giving lots of mine away to very happy friends!

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