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.

 

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.