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.

 

 

British Flowers

British Flowers Week

It is British Flowers Week in the UK. An event runs from 19th-25th June 2017 and is all about celebrating British Flowers and our cut flower industry. It is also an excuse to feature some of our most gorgeous flowers for cutting on the blog.

The Cut Flower Garden or Pickery at Easton Walled Gardens
The Cut Flower Garden or Pickery at Easton Walled Gardens

Here are seven favourites from the hundreds of cut flowers we grow in our Pickery every year. Do you agree? Let us know via our facebook page, twitter or instagram where we post as @ewgardens If you would like more information on any of the flowers shown tweet us and we will do all we can to help.

Our Top 7 UK flowers for cutting:

  1. From the hardy Perennials:

Astrantia

Astrantia in the Cottage Garden at Easton Walled Gardens
Astrantia in the Cottage Garden at Easton Walled Gardens

The ‘star’ flower and the only hardy perennial on this list. Flowers in May and early June and again later if you cut it back hard. The flowers can be used for arrangements immediately or dried for winter use.

Other perennials that will give you great results for the cutting garden include Geum ‘Mrs Bradshaw” (keep cutting and it will flower almost continuously through the summer) , Coreopsis grandiflora and the perennial rudbeckias.

2. From the mass of daffodils you can choose we have picked:

Narcissus ‘Sir Winston Churchill’

Narcissus 'Sir Winston Churhchill' flourishes in short grass
Narcissus ‘Sir Winston Churchill’ flourishes in short grass

A multi-headed, easy to grow daffodil flowering in mid April. I have chosen this variety because of its beautiful cream double flowers flecked with smaller petals the colours of a peach melba. But what really makes this daffodil exceptional is its sweet scent. There is nothing cloying about the scent – it is very clean. Hard to believe a daffodil can smell this good!

Narcissus 'Sir Winston Churchill' in the courtyard
Narcissus ‘Sir Winston Churchill’ in the courtyard

3. Sweet Peas

Lathyrus odoratus

EWG 1.7.14.-40 Sweet Pea heaven at Easton Walled Gardens

The queen of the cut flower garden. It was too hard to chose a favourite from the 100 varieties we grow every year so here is a general guide: If you want really strong scent chose a grandiflora such as ‘America’, if you want really big flowers chose a modern variety such as ‘Gwendoline.’ If you want lots of garden flowers and all the scent, choose a semi-grandiflora such as ‘Albutt Blue’, ‘Watermelon’ or ‘Kingfisher.’

100 varieties of sweet peas are grown in our Pickery every year.
100 varieties of sweet peas are grown in our Pickery every year.

For more information on sweet peas click any of the links below:

Our six favourite sweet peas

Visiting our sweet peas

Growing your own sweet pea tips

Autumn sown sweet peas

4. Clary Sage

Salvia horminum

Salvia horminum or Clary Sage in the pickery at Easton Walled Gardens
Salvia horminum or Clary Sage in the pickery at Easton Walled Gardens

Overlooked by big commercial growers but exceptionally good for growing on an allotment or smallholding, this sage is a great favourite with visitors once it starts to flower in June. The colour comes from adapted leaves or bracts; the flowers themselves are tiny. Use the white form for delicate posies of white and green. I think the pink forms are harder to use but the blue adds zest to any arrangement. Once it starts to flop, cut hard back and it will spring back for another round of late colour.

Blue Clary Sage is great with sweet peas and cornflowers
Blue Clary Sage is great with sweet peas and cornflowers

5. Sunflowers

Sunflower ‘Earthwalker’

Sunflower 'Earthwalker' with fennel
Sunflower ‘Earthwalker’ with fennel

A branching, tawny sunflower that throws many superb flowerheads perfect for cutting on a grand scale. If you just love them for the garden this is an excellent variety for the back of a border and the goldfinches will love the seed heads.

Late summer in the Pickery at Easton Walled Gardens
Late summer in the Pickery at Easton Walled Gardens

6. Zinnia

Large headed rather than bedding zinnias are best for cutting. They come in mixes such as Early Wonder, Giant Scabious mix and the individual colours can be found in the Benary series.

Red Zinnia at Easton Walled Gardens

Zinnias last for ages in water and can be used to bring an exotic flavour to your arrangements. We sow in May and harvest from mid august until the first hard frosts. Increasingly we use these strong flowers to combine with soft grasses.

Pennisetum bedded with Zinnias has created a fascinating combination that visitors love.
Pennisetum bedded out with Zinnias has created a fascinating combination that visitors love.

7. Dahlias

Dahlia ‘Honka Red’

Dahlias 'Tutu' and 'Honka Red'
Dahlias ‘Tutu’ and ‘Honka Red’

This is a fabulous, long flowering dahlia for striking arrangements. The tubers last well over winter when lifted and provide a continuous flow of flowers from August to October. The red is particularly good with the yellows and orange hues of autumn.

Dahlias in the Pickery
Dahlias in the Pickery

Green Manure

How to sow green manure

We have found that sowing a green manure between crops of cut flowers or vegetables makes for a much better harvest the following year.

Here’s our simple guide to sowing green manure in autumn for digging in the following spring.

You will need:

  1. A clear bed dug to a fine tilth. (Not as hard as you think if you have just removed this year’s crop.)easton-walled-gardens-img_2421
  2. An enthusiastic pair of hands. (In this case, Harry.)easton-walled-gardens-img_2422
  3. Seeds. (Here we are using hungarian forage rye. Being from a different plant family, it won’t harbour diseases that might affect next year’s sweet peas. Mustard is another good choice.)easton-walled-gardens-img_2425
  4. Some old CDs, short bamboo canes and string.easton-walled-gardens-img_2428

Method:

Scatter the seeds across the bed on a day when there has been some rain in the night but the temperatures are still mild.

easton-walled-gardens-img_2423

The image below shows roughly the rate at which we sow.

easton-walled-gardens-img_2427

Lightly rake over the bed so that the seeds are covered.

easton-walled-gardens-img_2426

Attach the string to the top of each bamboo cane and hang the CDs on the bottom. You should end up with a ‘fishing rod’ shape with a CD attached to the end. The CDs will spin in the wind.

Place these at regular intervals to deter birds.

Other enemies:

Mice and voles can take your whole crop but our TOP TIP is to fill a small tin with corn and place it nearby. The mice will happily eat more of this and less of your crop.

After about 10 days it should look like this!

easton-walled-gardens-img_2424

Allow it to grow all winter and dig and chop the crop into the soil next spring. (About 2 weeks before planting out your summer flowers or vegetables.)

Why it works:

Green manure works on our free draining soil because it locks up the nutrients in the rye leaves throughout the winter.  When we dig in the green plants, we keep the nutrients near the surface.

If we leave the ground bare, winter rain causes the nutrients to leach out into the subsoil where they become inaccessible to crops with shallow root systems.

By next summer, this bed will be filled with our grandiflora sweet peas. With all this extra food available to them they will look fantastic!