The Cottage Smallholder

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Sowing Sweet Peas in January


Photo: Summer border without Sweet Peas

Photo: Summer border without Sweet Peas

“My grandfather always grew Sweet Peas in an arched walk. I visited him a lot as a child and can still remember the smell of them now.” Melanie mused.

This was years ago when I was starting to design the garden here. I could see the scene in my mind’s eye, a little girl in a summer frock suurounded by flowers. Since then I’ve always fancied a walk or even just an arch of sweet smelling Sweat Peas but I’ve not been very lucky with this pretty scented flower. I grow a few each year to scramble amongst the beans and encourage pollination. But a lot of the seeds fail to germinate.

Somehow as they are a flower that is associated strongly with childhood, I imagined like nasturtiums they are easy to sow and grow. Even raised in pots in coddled in the greenhouse 25% of seeds rotted. Years later I suddenly twigged that Melanie’s grandpa was a professional gardener. If he could grow an arched walk there must be some skill involved.

Recently I discovered that sometimes it is advisable to chit them. That means cutting or scraping a bit of the hard coating off the seed to encourage germination on the opposite side to the eye. I decided to investigate further and found this great article on the Thompson and Morgan site Apparently the darker flowers have the hardest seed coating. And it is these that are less likely to germinate without a little help. Thinking back I had very few darker coloured flowers this year – now I know why.

You need to soak the sweet peas in a little tepid water for a few hours. Those with the softer skins will swell and it’s only the seeds that don’t swell that you need to chit.

I let some of my Sweet Peas go to seed and dry in the pods late summer. I collected the seed in the autumn and they have been waiting in an envelope on the kitchen mantelpiece since then. I was planning to sow them in pots in the greenhouse in October but they got forgotten. 

I am going to use Mr Thompson’s method of germinating my seeds in kitchen roll before potting up and putting the pots in the green house. Tomorrow is a flower day in the lunar planting calendar so I will be soaking the seeds then.

So this year I may have a Sweet Pea arch for the very first time.

If you want a chance to win Maria Thun’s The Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar 2010 this is the last day of our Cottage Smallholder competition.

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  1. I live in Far Northern Ohio right near the Michigan state line, and have ALWAYS planted 2 rows of garden peas, EVERY YEAR, on New Year’s Day!!

    Maybe one year out of 10 they won’t do well, otherwise they normally thrive and many years I’ll have fresh peas to eat sometime in March, well before the rest of the garden is ready to plant.

    Shumway’s has a variety called “Icebreaker” that is well suited for this, but any peas will work. They are a cool weather crop and all but the hardest (subzero) freezes do not bother them.

  2. Catherine

    Please can you tell me the really best ever perfumed Sweet Pea to grow.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hello Catherine

      I don’t know but this article by Sarah Raven will help

  3. Happy New Year fn!
    First of all, thank you so much for you Christmas e card. I’m sorry i didn’t return the kind gesture, things were so hectic this year, I hardly got time to think. Our dear neighbour passed away a week before Christmas & we spent all our time with his wife, which was our privilege to do.
    I love the idea of a sweet pea arch, they are my favourite flower of all time! My sister in law had them for her wedding bouquet. I try to grow them ever year too, can’t wait to see your finished effect.

  4. Shelley, there is a variety my mother is growing very sucessfully over winter in southern spain, it is specially selected to cope with short day length, so it isn’t “embarrassed by the heat”! Not sure of any other details at the moment, but I can find out!

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