How sweet it is to have cooler weather for this flower
It's sweet pea time. Although St Patrick's Day, March 17, is the traditional day for planting sweet peas, it was far too hot to even think about it then. But now, thanks to a little rain and cooler temperatures, the time is right.
The sweet pea (lathyrus odoratus) is an annual, a member of the fabaceae or legume family. There are climbers and dwarf forms, and the flowers vary in colour from white and cream through pinks and crimsons to blues and purples. These are definitely a flower for the lover of pastel shades, there are no vibrant yellows or oranges here.
They bloom prolifically and make a lovely cut flower. Many varieties have a delightful fragrance, too. Sweet peas symbolise bliss, pleasure and leaving after a positive experience, so a gift of sweet peas is a lovely way to say 'thank you'.
All of the varieties that we grow today have been bred from the same parent seeds sent by Sicilian monk Franciscus Cupani to colleagues in Amsterdam and England in 1699. Seeds of this beautifully scented, tall growing cupani are still widely available. The blooms are deep blue with purple wings.
The climbing forms of sweet peas can grow up to 2m tall, so they need some support. If you don't have a fence or trellis, build a teepee by tying at least 3 tall straight sticks or stakes together at the top with some string. Have the support structure in place before you plant, as you may damage the roots if you poke stakes into the ground once your plants are growing.
The dwarf varieties don't need support, but still produce large, sweetly scented flowers on long, sturdy stems. The best of these are probably bijou, which grows about 45cm tall, and explorer mixed which is about 30cm.
Sweet peas are easy to grow from seed. They prefer a sunny position, with plenty of organic matter and a sprinkling of lime or dolomite in the soil. Use premium potting mix if they are in a pot. Sow seeds directly where they are to grow, about 2-4cm deep. Pea seeds won't germinate readily in waterlogged soil, so plant into moist soil and then don't water them again until the shoots emerge. Once the shoots are about 5-8cm tall, pinch out the tops to encourage side shoots and more flowers.
Flowering should begin about 12-14 weeks after planting. It's important to keep picking the flowers and removing any seed pods to encourage more blooms to form.
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