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.

 

 

Seven of the Best Sweet Peas

My Top 7 Sweet Peas

Every year at Easton Walled Gardens, we grow over 50 varieties of what we consider to be the best sweet peas available on wigwams, drums and supports.

In amongst the rows of tangled colour and scent, there are varieties that are especially reliable, floriferous and scented. To celebrate our sweet pea week, here is my selection of 7 top performing varieties from amongst those superstars of the best sweet peas to grow.

1.Sweet Pea ‘Duo Salmon’

A darling of a sweet pea; its’ red and pink petals glow in the evening light and there are lots of them! Duo Salmon was bred by Unwins in 2009 and awarded an AGM in 2010, we grow this sweet pea every year. It is always strong and covered in flower.

Trained up canes and plastic netting, Lathyrus odoratus 'Duo Salmon', Spencer sweet pea, a climbing annual flowering from June. Photo Credit Nicola Stocken
Trained up canes and plastic netting, Lathyrus odoratus ‘Duo Salmon’, Spencer sweet pea, a climbing annual flowering from June. Photo Credit Nicola Stocken

Particularly suitable for growing on its own for a column of colour. It has a light, pretty scent. If you particularly want a sweet pea that looks great when you come home from work, you could also try Valerie Harrod. They have the same luminosity when the sunlight slants across the garden at dusk.

Close up of Duo Salmon Sweet Pea in the pickery at Easton Walled Gardens
Close up of Duo Salmon Sweet Pea in the pickery at Easton Walled Gardens
  1. Sweet Pea ‘Border Beauty’

White sweet peas have a minimalist sophistication without losing the romance of ruffles and scent. They can be difficult to source as the stock tends to deteriorate (usually the flowers are smaller than they should be.) We have found Border Beauty to be the best in its class. While technically it has a blue wire edge this serves to outline the flower and make it stand out. It has a delicious scent and makes a robust plant four flowers on each stem. Definitely a contender for best wedding sweet pea but you could also try Wedding Day.

Definitely a contender for weddin bouquets: Sweet Pea White Frills
Definitely a contender for wedding bouquets: Pure White Sweet Peas
  1. Sweet Pea ‘Almost Black’

The brooding Mr Rochester to modest pale Jane Eyre sweet peas, this really dark sweet pea is very popular with our visitors. ‘Almost Black’ stands out immediately from other grandifloras in the same bed and makes a great contrast in white and blue bunches. Being a grandiflora, the flowers are smaller than some modern sweet peas but it has a great scent.

Lathyrus 'Almost Black', heritage sweet pea, climbing annual, flowering from June in the Pickery at Easton Walled Gardens. Photo credit: Nicola Stocken
Lathyrus ‘Almost Black’, heritage sweet pea, climbing annual, flowering from June in the Pickery at Easton Walled Gardens. Photo credit: Nicola Stocken
  1. Sweet Pea ‘Our Harry’

I love this sweet pea. Even its name sums up the tradition of sweet pea growing in this country. In ‘Our Harry’ you can hear the unpretentious commitment to the allotment or small holding that has created some of our greatest sweet peas. The colour is a beautiful clear blue and we come back to it year after year for its reliability.

Sweet Pea 'Our Harry' Spencer Sweet Pea growing up the canes and netting at Easton Walled Gardens
Sweet Pea ‘Our Harry’ Spencer Sweet Pea growing up the canes and netting at Easton Walled Gardens
  1. Sweet Pea ‘Mollie Rilstone’

If you have ever admired the muted pinks and greens on cream found in Colefax and Fowler fabrics you will know why this is such a successful sweet pea. The rose-edged picotee flowers on a cream ground are as beautiful in bud as they are in flower. Mollie Rilstone has a good scent and is highly suitable for cutting. We have grown this sweet pea for over 10 years and it continues to be an excellent choice for a cottage garden or a pink and blue border scheme.

The delicious Mollie Rilstone sweet pea flowering in the pickery at Easton Walled Gardens
The delicious Mollie Rilstone sweet pea flowering in the pickery at Easton Walled Gardens

6. Sweet Pea ‘Watermelon’

Fairly new to us but now a staple of the semi-grandiflora section of our sweet pea beds. (Actually, Watermelon isn’t a semi-grandiflora but its bushy habit is similar so we include it here.)

A pretty sweet pea for cutting and combining with other colours: Sweet Pea Watermelon at Easton Walled Gardens
A pretty sweet pea for cutting and combining with other colours: Sweet Pea Watermelon at Easton Walled Gardens

The charm of these peachy pink flowers only becomes really apparent when combined with a light blue pea. Try it with Chatsworth, Kingfisher or Albutt Blue, either wrapped around a support in the garden or in a bunch.

Trained within a wire column, Lathyrus odoratus 'Watermelon', sweet pea, a climbing annual flowering from June in the vegetable garden. Photo Credit: Nicola Stocken
Trained within a wire column, Lathyrus odoratus ‘Watermelon’, sweet pea, a climbing annual flowering from June in the vegetable garden. Photo Credit: Nicola Stocken
  1. Sweet Pea ‘Henry Thomas’

It is the intense red colour of Sweet Pea ‘Henry Thomas’ that draws us back every year. The only other sweet pea we grow in this colour is ‘Winston Churchill’ but he can be remarkably obstinate about germinating.

The richness of the red can be appreciated over a long period which is catalogue-speak for a plant that will give you lots of frilly flowers on strong stems that will need picking regularly. A great choice for arrangements.

Sweet Pea Henry Thomas growing on canes in the Pickery at Easton Walled Gardens
Sweet Pea Henry Thomas growing on canes in the Pickery at Easton Walled Gardens

So there you have it, we think these are outstanding in the their colour and class. Let us know on instagram, facebook or twitter what your favourites are – search @ewgardens.

These sweet peas are available as seed throughout the year from our online shop.

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