There are gardeners who sow their sweet peas in autumn and those who sow in spring. I am of the latter. I have in my time done both but when windowsill space is tight and Christmas is on the way, I don’t want to keep explaining to neighbours, ramblers with icicles, hardened pooch walkers why our nativity scene seems to have a baby Jesus with green hair. Neither do I want to sit down to Christmas lunch, worrying all the while that my sweet peas in the cold frame are slowly freezing beneath three feet of snow. Life is too short and the growing season is long, I therefore take a relaxed view to sowing seeds.
I have always grown sweet peas, when I was new to gardening, when I had no garden; I have revised this view in recent years. We all have gardens from herbs on the windowsill to pots outside our backdoor, from scrub patches by the back gate to the palatial grandness of a few acres – a garden is a place, a plot that is tended and loved; size does not matter.
From the start I have grown sweet peas. I have never scrimped on the amount I grow for there is nothing more joyous than coming home after a hard day’s work and seeing your front door adorned with glorious flowers and stopping to take in that intoxicating scent.
The great thing is that it is not still too late to sow your sweet peas. You need a three inch pot or a big yoghurt pot (just punch some holes in the bottom), filled with a good quality compost. Do not use compost from your compost heap unless you want to nurture some fine weeds. Sow three seeds to each pot, I sow around two hundred seeds each year, I try out new varieties each year and in my greenhouse at the moment just popping out from their pots are White Leamington (pure white, frilly flowers and sweetly scented), Miss Willmott (Spencer show type, with long stems and large flowers), Winston Churchill (Bright crimson with frilled and fluted flowers) and Beaujolais (Large, fragrant maroon flowers) all from Dobies (http://www.dobies.co.uk). It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a greenhouse, the windowsill in spring is normally empty and the nativity scene and Christmas cards are long gone. I grew all my first garden on a windowsill and the whole garden cost me less than £10. All I ask is that you don’t forget to label your pots, you can go out and buy plant labels but it isn’t necessary, in the past I have used lolly sticks and even cut up the plastic from a milk bottle into labels. You don’t have to spend a fortune to grow a garden.
With sweet peas you don’t have to hold back, less is not more, sow the entire packet and grow what you want to grow. Go for the colours you want, even if the colours clash, it does not matter, sweet peas are very forgiving. Bring on the purples and pinks, the yellows and reds. Do try at least one scented variety, try one of the old fashioned varieties and throughout the summer you will be rewarded with an abundance of flowers. The great thing about sweet peas is the more you cut them, taking the flower and the stem only, the more they flower. This means you can have house full of these heady flowers throughout the season and there is nothing better on a rainy day then burying your nose in a vase of them. It is the smell of summer. It is the smell of Pig Row.