Back in April 2011 I wrote about sweet peas from Dobies (http://www.dobies.co.uk). I sowed over two hundred seeds of several varieties; I never do things by half when sowing sweet peas and I advise any gardener growing sweet peas always to plant more than you think you will need. Even if you don’t want all the plants that germinate, your friends, your family and your neighbours will be happy to take any spares off your hand. I also know from experience that sweet peas take up little room in the glass house when growing and in the border. Sweet peas add temporary structure, height and heady scent to any summer garden.
Every few years I try varieties new to me, and there are so many different varieties of sweet peas that I doubt I will ever grow all of them. A must for me as a gardener is that any sweet peas I do grow must be scented, I see little point in growing sweet peas with no scent. I know there are many growers who only grow for the flowers and though they look beautiful, there is nothing in this world that compares to the smell of a freshly cut bunch of sweet peas. It would be like growing pears with no taste. I see little point in all that effort for only half the reward.
This is the first year on Pig Row that I have grown the pure white and sweetly scented White Leamington which has frilly flowers compared to most sweet peas, Miss Willmott which is a Spencer show type, with long stems and large flowers, Noel Sutton, a deep blue sweet pea with the RHS Award of Garden Merit, Winston Churchill with bright crimson frilled and fluted flowers and finally Beaujolais with is large, blousy fragrant maroon flowers. I like to trial sweet peas at Pig Row to find hardy specimens that can stand life on our exposed hillside. This is what any gardener does year in year out; we all have our favourites and when we find the ones that work best in our garden we stick to them but we also have plants that become our pet hates. When I gardened at Drovers, our last garden; a small but perfectly formed cottage garden I could never grow Lupins. I tried every way of growing them, from seed tray to plot they always went the same way, drooping, dead and fodder for the slugs. I expected when I moved to a garden much higher up than the valley loving Drovers that my chances of ever growing Lupins successfully was gone. I am stubborn though and thought I would try my hand one last time and sowed a packet of Russell Brand Lupins under glass, I sowed seventy five seeds and seventy five seedlings appeared. It was hard to contain my growing excitement; I burst in on my wife and her family having afternoon tea cackling with glee that ‘they were alive!’. My wife merely shook her head, our toddler roared with laughter and my parents in law just looked at me as if to say, ‘I knew he wasn’t all there’. From seventy five seedlings came seventy four plants, I lost one not due to slugs or slumping but to my big feet. I now know that next year I will invest in raised staging in the glass house as I have tendency to forget how big my feet are until someone or something has been flattened by them. All of these self sown Lupins flowered in the first year and are now in their second year and are more beautiful than any Lupin I have ever seen in a garden centre or open garden. It just shows what works in one garden may not work in another. At Drovers I always had success with sweet peas but our first year at Pig Row was a wash out for sweet peas. I tried again this year; it has been a mixed bag.
All the seeds were treated the same and planted three to a pot in April and then covered with horticulture fleece in an unheated glass house. Though Noel Sutton germinated the best, it has been the worst to get away and though it has an RHS Award of Garden Merit I suspect their trial beds weren’t on a Yorkshire moor. It has barely flowered and struggled even in sheltered areas of the garden. Winston Churchill and Beaujolais have also struggled but came into their own the more they were picked; the key to any successful sweet peas growing is to keep picking. White Leamington has been a disappointment and I can’t even bare to write about it let alone pass its remains in the garden. The biggest surprise is Miss Willmott, in my garden journal I noted in late April that the seeds had not even germinated and I had two full trays of empty pots. When Miss Willmott did come through the growth seemed weak and fragile compared to Noel Sutton. Yet when I planted Miss Willmott on an open site beside a path it romped away and has given us vase after vase of sweet smelling sweet peas that have filled our house and have been given to neighbours. I know that many varieties that don’t work for me may work for you in your garden and this column is here to tell you about my ups and downs with growing specific seeds or using certain tools. I would recommend Miss Willmott and any of the seeds listed here and I would like to hear about your luck with your sweet peas this year. The great thing about gardeners is that when we have successes we are happy to tell others and when we have failures we are more than happy to moan about it over a cup of tea and a biscuit.