When you’ve gardened for a little while you realise there are some plants you can’t be without. I could probably go a year without growing potatoes (my waistline might benefit if I did!), but one plant I have to grow every year is the sweet pea.
There are lots of reasons why I like them, but first and foremost is their gorgeous scent. Their flowers are so pretty and colourful and on the whole, these are easy-going, straightforward plants to grow. Plus, because they’re an annual climber, sown in spring, flowering in summer and on the compost heap by autumn, you can try new varieties every year, so you never get bored. There are so many varieties to choose from, it’s impossible to recommend just a few; just choose the colours you like!
March is a great month to sow sweet peas. If your soil is well-drained and it’s a warm spring, you can sow them directly into the soil at the base of their supports. But if the soil is still cold and claggy, sow them into deep pots of compost instead, planting out when they’re up and growing and soil conditions have improved. If you want to make life even easier you don’t have to sow at all. Most garden centres sell trays of sweet pea seedlings perfect for transplanting. One of my best-ever sweet pea years was thanks to two trays of plants bought for £2.50 each – they were reduced in a sale.
They’re completely hardy, so you don’t need to protect them from frost. Just make sure the soil they’re going into is rich and full of nutrients. You may need to tie them in to their supports to start with, but once they get going, their spiralling tendrils will do the rest. Then just water in dry spells, sit back and wait for the flowers. The most important thing is to keep picking the flowers. Let them die on the plant and they’ll turn into seed, sending a signal to the plant to stop flowering. Pick them and you’ll guarantee the plants keep flowering all summer long and you’ll be able to fill your home with beautiful, fragrant blooms.
MUST-BUY PLANT… Spiraea
This hardy deciduous shrub has green foliage and pink flowers. Best cut back hard each year to keep it in shape.
Spiraea ‘Gold Flame’
This variety has the same pink flowers but much more exciting leaves – a warm salmon-orange when they emerge in spring, turning to gold during summer.
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