Jez Taylor has been Head Gardener at Daylesford since 2008, where he and his team grow hundreds of varieties of organic fruits, vegetables, herbs and salad leaves in our the 25 acre Market Garden.
Jez was interviewed about growing sweet peas at home in the latest volume of SEED MAGAZINE, which we are delighted to share here.
Even before we started the cutting garden at Daylesford I was aware of the potential for growing sweet peas. Like peas, they thrive in the warm temperatures of late spring, and if you can get them going early you can have yourself a reliable source of sweet-scented cut stems for gifting and cheering up the home all through the summer.
Early sowing gives you a great head start. If you can sow in November or December so that you have big bushy plants for planting outside in spring, you can enjoy your first flowers by early June, and if you look after them well enough, with some high potash feed, deadheading and watering, then they can be kept flowering right into September.
Sweet peas don’t appreciate root disturbance but they often need to be raised as a transplant so as to protect the seed from hungry mice and from spring frosts. They also prefer a bit of space in order to develop strong root systems. In the garden at Daylesford we sow two seeds per 1-litre pot. When the seedlings are 10cm tall, the weaker one is removed and the remaining one has its tip removed. This has the effect of making the plant throw sideshoots – between four and six. When this growth is no more than 20cm long, transplant the sweet pea into the growing ground, leaving at least 20cm between plants and taking care to plant the root ball with little root disturbance, and into crumbly soil that the roots can easily grow into.
SHELTER AND SUPPORT
Prior to planting in the ground, it is a good idea to set up the structure for them to grow on. A combination of rough string and canes works well, giving the shoots plenty of surface area to cling to. When young, the plants’ tendrils aren’t particularly strong, so you will need to wind or loosely tie plants on to the structure. Lifting the plant off the soil in this way helps to reduce slug damage, another common problem when establishing sweet peas. Planting in a sheltered position will also encourage the shoots ‘up’ the framework.
My favourite structure for sweet peas is a wigwam of 2.5m hazel poles with thinner crosspiece branches attached at 30cm intervals. The rustic structures look beautiful – they give immediate height – and when covered in blooms make stunning garden features, wafting sweet scent.
Be warned that plant nurseries and garden centres will often have pots of sweet peas for sale from April which contain up to 20 seedlings in a pot. If you are tempted by these then it really is important to gently separate each seedling from the clump and give it its own pot. Too often people will plant the whole pot and then be incredibly disappointed as the poor plants struggle through close competition to grow even 40cm tall, let alone flower.
If you try to follow my suggestions, you will be delighted by what is probably the most productive cutting flower you will ever grow.
When choosing which varieties to grow, my selection criteria has generally observed the Daylesford preference for pastel shades, although it is always good to have a few dark types to give contrast. Strong scent and long stem length have been important, although I get less hung up about the length these days as I think it’s nice to use stems attached to a bit of leaf and tendril, which gives extra length to use in bouquets.
Sweet pea seeds from our Market Garden are now available to buy online. Jez has selected his favourite varieties for scent and appearance so you can enjoy growing them in in your gardens at home.
This variety has tall stems and in exceptionally long flowering period.
Delicate, with blue-edged white flowers with a strong scent.
My favourite of the white and varieties starts off cream, maturing to a delicate shade of ivory.
This a beautiful pale salmon with a rich scent.
Beautiful with gently waved lavender flowers with pale edges.