George says: grow super-scented sweet peas
Have you ever sown sweet pea seeds in the cardboard tubes from loo rolls? George and I were speculating the other day whether this was what had caused the panic-buying of lavatory paper in the weeks before the coronavirus lockdown.
Just think, perhaps all the UK's gardeners, worried about growing their sweet peas, were rushing to the supermarkets to stock up on cardboard tubes? What did they do with all the toilet paper? Probably used it to line their sweet pea trenches.
I never quite understood what the lavatory paper stockpiling was all about anyway, so our explanation makes much more sense, I think.
By the way, the tip about lining the trench with newspaper can be adapted for planting other things too. It's a good idea if you're planting a hedge, or growing runner beans - any situation where you are planting rows of things and need to retain moisture while they establish.
Follow George's advice and enjoy some gorgeous sweet peas this summer.
Autumn-sown sweet peas growing up canes in a large pot
The versatile sweet pea will grow in any garden, whether it be up canes, on a wall, a trellis, or in a border. Wherever you grow them, they will give a joyous show of colour and perfume.
First, prepare the area in which you wish to plant your sweet peas.
Dig a trench around 18ins (45cms) deep, place screwed up newspaper in the bottom, cover with a layer of manure, then replace the soil. This preparation will give nutrients to the roots.
Next, you need to decide whether you wish to plant your seeds in the autumn or spring. Growing sweet peas from seed is easy – just place a seed in a small pot and water in, put in a sunny position and wait for germination. When the seedling has grown two pairs of leaves, pinch out the top, this will then force a side shoot to appear and this will be the runner.
Look carefully at this picture and you can see the spring-sown sweet peas (at the front) are much smaller than the autumn-sown sweet peas further back.
Autumn-sown sweet peas will give you a head start especially if you wish to grow exhibition type flowers. To achieve this standard, you run the seedling up a single cane tying in as it grows, plus pinching out the side shoots which appear from the leaf axils. Cut off the tendrils as the plants progress up the cane but be careful not to pick out the flower buds.
Tendrils enable the plant to climb, but if they twine around a cane or support, they will cause the stem to twist and bend, which can cramp the flowers
Nipping off the tendrils increases the chances of getting sweet pea blooms with long straight stems
The roots will now be down in the preparation mixture, and the flowers will appear – hopefully with long stems and 5 to 7 florets.
Spring-sown sweet peas follow the same formula. Sometimes people save their toilet roll tubes and plant a seed in each, then when ready to plant, put the tube and plant into the soil. The cardboard tube provides room for a nice long root run, and will rot down in a short time.
Sweet peas are good climbers. All you need is a trellis or frame for the tendrils to adhere to and they will grow with little attention and flower profusely. For borders, gather some pea sticks and make a small pile like a hay stack for the tendrils to cling to.
Bees love sweet peas and you will have them buzzing around when the flowers are in peak blossom. But beware of pigeons which can peck away at leaf growth. Blackfly will also descend in warm weather, so have a bug gun ready.
It is best to keep cutting the flowers throughout the season. If you leave them, they will form seed pods and restrict the production of further flowers. Shelf life for sweet peas as a cut flower is around five days.
If you are growing sweet peas up a row of canes, they quickly reach the top, so now it’s time to layer. Cut the growth away from the cane gently then lay along the ground so that the tip can be tied to the furthest away cane then start the upward movement once again. Do this with all the canes.
Sweet peas first appeared in the UK in 1699, when a Sicilian monk called Francisco Cupani sent seeds of Lathyrum odoratus to a Dr Robert Uvedale, a schoolmaster in Enfield. The variety ‘Cupani’, with maroon and purple flowers, is still available today and has a wonderful fragrance. There is also a variety named after Robert Uvedale, which was bred by Peter Grayson, and has dark pink flowers.
Modern sweet pea breeding began in the 1870 with Henry Eckford, who was encouraged to start hybridising while working at Sandywell Park, a private asylum near Cheltenham run by Dr William Sankey, also a keen amateur breeder.
Eckford’s “grandiflora” varieties, which were much larger and showier than the species, ensured that sweet peas became the popular garden plants that they are today.