How to grow autumn sown sweet peas

Autumn sown sweet peas from Easton Walled GardensWhy should I grow autumn sown sweet peas?

Hardy annuals, like sweet peas, will grow, flower and die in one year. By sowing in the Autumn instead of the Spring you give the plant 6 months of extra growth. By next summer they are able to sustain bigger, earlier flowers on strong stems.

You also have two seasons to sow (Autumn and Spring) to guarantee success and a longer flowering period. Flowering dates vary from year to year so a succession of sweet peas is particularly important if you plan to have your own beautiful scented flowers for a wedding or family celebration.

Is it more complicated than sowing in the Spring?

Yes and No.

Yes, you will have to care for your plants over winter.

No, you will have virtually indestructible plants by the time they go out into the  soil.

Ok, so you have sort of convinced me, how do I go about it?

You will need the following:

Deep pots such as roottrainers or long tom pots and some multi-purpose compost with a slow release fertiliser added (that’s included in almost all commercial composts).

A place to put your sweet peas where they will get plenty of cold but won’t be as exposed as if they were in the open garden. A porch, cold frame or unheated greenhouse is ideal.

Anything else?

Seeds obviously (which you can buy from our online shop here). The other thing to consider is mice. They LOVE sweet peas when they are seeds or very small seedlings. Protect your pots so mice can’t get access to the seed. That could be anything from a platform with legs that are tucked underneath so the mice can’t make it past the overhang or a clear lid to cover your sweet peas (Roottrainers supply these with the pots)

Keep an eye out for slugs too by checking the base of your pots (where they love to lurk) and removing them.

When should I sow my seeds?

You can sow anytime from early October to mid November when the days allow for a long gentle germination. Push them gently into the damp but not wet compost until they are covered by about 2cms of soil.

How do I know if I am getting it right?

What you are aiming for is lots of roots and the minimum of top growth. If you see green shoots emerging slowly and gradually putting on leaves over a period of about 3 weeks you have got it right. If your plants are turning into a jungle of green you have got them too warm and they need to go somewhere cooler to slow their growth for a bit.

But how cold is too cold?

Sweet peas can withstand temperatures of about -5 at night but will not like to be frozen in their pots all day. If you overdo it and lose the top growth, chances are, if you give them some warmth they will have established enough root to sprout again.

I’ve completely overdone it and my sweet peas look like triffids, what should I do?

Pinch out the main stem back to 2 sets of leaves with your finger and thumb to reduce the top growth and send your plants to the sin bin as detailed above. If you have had them on a windowsill or similar, be careful not to abandon them to the cold too fast. They will need hardening off. Put them outside in the day time and bring in at night for a week before leaving them out full time.

It’s Spring! My plants are busting to go out, when should I put them in the ground?

This depends a lot on where you live but once the worst frosts are over is a good time. For us in Lincolnshire this is from Mid-March onwards. A good test is to put your hand on the ground every few days and you will gradually start to feel the soil is no longer arctic. Keep an eye out for weed seedlings appearing, this is a good indicator that your plants will also put on growth in the ground.

I still have more questions, can you help?

As well as seed and roottrainers we sell Roger Parsons excellent book on Sweet Peas in our online shop. If you need help with individual problems you can send us a tweet @ewgardens.

I meant to Autumn Sow Sweet Pea but it’s too late….

Don’t worry, you can buy them from our garden too where we have done all the hard work and they are ready to go out to produce strong plants with early flowers. Buy Autumn Sown Sweet Peas.

 

 

Six of the best scented sweet peas

Six of the best scented sweet peas.

These are some of our favourite sweet peas. They have a great scent and are reliably good varieties. Every year we grow 50 or so cultivars. Through experience  we have found the best sweet peas for cutting and growing in the garden. When a sweet pea variety starts to wane (as they all do except for some of the remarkable very old sweet peas) we will trial similar colours and replace one with the other. Linda Carole (see below) is an excellent example of this.

Linda Carole 2012

Lathyrus odoratus  ‘Linda Carole’

Launched by Derek Heathcote who has produced some fine varieties since he started his business in 1992. This striking flower is similar to ‘Mars’ but seems to come better from seed. It has a carmine stripe and a delicate line outlining the white background (called a ‘picotee’ in sweet pea speak). Very good scent for a new variety. We have grown Linda Carole for about four years and particularly recommend it for cutting.

Matucana

Lathyrus odoratus ‘Matucana’

An old fashioned variety that has been around for hundreds of years. It is perhaps the most famous of the really fragrant sweet peas. The flower is smaller than the modern varieties but what it lacks in size it makes up for with an amazing scent. 10/10 on the smellometer!  Lots of flowers on a bushy plant. Add the flowers to a larger bouquet by tucking them into the back and the scent will weave through the posy.

Our Harry 1

Lathyrus odoratus ‘Our Harry.’

When we started growing sweet peas, we raised well known blue varieties such as ‘Noel Sutton’. One year at the Chelsea Flower Show,  I saw this pea across a crowded floral marquee and was immediately smitten. A scented blue sweet pea with big flowers, the clean translucent colour really appeals to me. A number of similar blue sweet peas have appeared on the market recently so we have decided to allocate a trial bed for blue sweet peas for 2019. It will be interesting to see if the quality and scent can match the beautiful ‘Our Harry’.

Sweet Pea Evening Glow (6)

Sweet Pea ‘Valerie Harrod.’

is a notable addition to any sweet pea collection as it has a peachy tone in its soft pink flowers that is absent from most other peas. This is a connoisseurs sweet pea. It has good scent for a Spencer sweet pea, produces big beautiful flowers and grows vigorously. Sweet Pea ‘Evening Glow’ is similar in colour. Mix in a bunch with pastels or go for complementary colours such as ‘Our Harry’ or ‘Kingfisher.’ This is looking very healthy and full of flower on our sweet pea supports.

EWG 5.7.12 (170)

Grandiflora Sweet Peas 

The very old sweet pea varieties are quite remarkable.  They may be called Grandiflora Sweet Peas, Antique Sweet Peas or Heritage Sweet Peas. They have smaller flowers than modern or spencer varieties but they are exceptionally gardenworthy because their plants are so bushy and packed with lots of flowers. They are also the best sweet pea for containers. Their standout quality is the remarkable amount of scent they produce so if you want the best scented sweet peas then grandifloras are the ones to grow. This picture shows ‘The Major’ in the foreground with red ‘Queen Alexandra’ behind.

Over 50 varieties of sweet pea are on show in the gardens and you can find our handpicked collection of sweet pea seed available for sale in the gardens or through our online shop.

 

Best snowdrops to grow

There are 1,000s of varieties of snowdrops out there. Some with differences so tiny they need an expert to point them out and it can be hard to determine from the enormous choice which will be the most reliable snowdrop varieties for your garden.
To help you, here is our guide to our favourite snowdrops based on their ability to spread and thrive.

Galanthus nivalis

The common snowdrop. Pure white with the famous little green bridge on the inside petals; this beautiful, simple flower is the harbinger of Spring. Flowering in mid February and continuing until early March, it is the best snowdrop to naturalise under shrubs and in thin grass. When grown in drifts, the flowers will release a powerful scent of honey on sunny days. Grow on a west facing bank to appreciate the sunshine and scent together.

 The common snowdrop Galanthus nivalis is the best snowdrop for naturalising in drifts

Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus ‘Flore Pleno’

The blowsy cousin of Galanthus nivalis with almost as many petals as it has letters in its name. Botanically you might say that the perianth of this beautiful snowdrop is stuffed with tepals. This is the double form of Galanthus nivalis and like the single form, releases its scent throughout late February. Slightly later to flower and excellent for picking for early posies.

The Double snowdrop Galanthus flore pleno

Galanthus ‘Wendy’s Gold’ AGM

A lot less demanding than some yellow snowdrops (Galanthus Lady Elphinstone, we are thinking of you:  when she is moved the flowers will have green markings instead of yellow until she has settled down) ‘Wendy’s Gold’ is a vigorous yellow form of Galanthus plicatus from the Black Sea. Her obviously different flowers that dance in the breeze make her a stand out ‘best snowdrop’ for any collection.

Snowdrop Wendys Gold, one of the best yellow snowdrops

Galanthus elwesii

The first to flower in the Spring batch of snowdrops – there are some snowdrops that flower in late winter and even autumn – Galanthus elwesii is out in January in mild years. Our favourite named variety is ‘Fred’s Giant’ which is a whopper with bulbs the size of small alliums. Big leaves and big flowers makes this variety perfect for naturalising near the back of the herbaceous border.

Galanthus Freds Giant one of the best snowdrops for early colour

Galanthus ‘Titania’

Titania is part of the stable of tall, double snowdrops known as Greatorex Doubles. To my mind she has the neatest flower with a tall upright habit. If you preferred a plant with looser morals, you could try Galanthus ‘Jacquenetta’ which has a fuller flower, is inclined to throw petals out to the side and lurch about a bit. Both of these snowdrops will multiply reliably without any help.

Galanthus Titania (3)