From Trees to Sweet Pea Trellises

Pottering about the garden in the weekend sunshine I reflect on the tree planting carried out during this last year. I see the first buds appearing on the humble whips. I gently hold a bud between my thumb and forefinger and will the tree to thrive. Yes, it’s been a year of unprecedented worry and difficulty but getting out into nature does have the ability to help us step outside of that head-lock for a while; maybe take on a manual outdoor task and find a rhythm with the spade, hammer, brush or just simply breath in and out meditatively, touch a tree, feel nature in all of her intricacy.

A year ago we were plunged into the first lockdown and like many startled-others I was drawn outdoors and put time into the garden. After about 3 months I began to really ‘see’ my garden and observe its relationship with the surrounding pastoral countryside. I saw gaps. I wanted to fill them in; paint my picture. My instinctive desire was to plant more trees. Every living creature and microorganism needs trees right now. More trees.

We live in an old property with some wonderful mature acid loving classics which, if I planted now I would never live to see the glory that they splendidly offer to me today. Blowsy Rhododendron Arboreums, Pendulous leafed Chestnuts and Beech that reach to the heavens. But, with zealous energy and wanting to be part of making it all ‘ok’ for our great grand-children I went gung-ho planting bare-roots till the pain was shooting up through my right knee and into my thigh - an old hockey shin-splint injury telling me 'Enough spade work please'. There is always next year, but by goodness I loved every sod that I turned and ‘am now custodian to baby Oak, Chestnut, Cedar, Pine, Beech, Birch, Hornbeam, Holly, Hazel, Apple, Cherry and a few delicate specials which is just pure indulgence really!

Feeling the heat wrap around my neck and face I smile towards the last of the weekend rays lowering in the sky. I replay little conversations and learnings that I’ve shared over the last year with fellow gardeners albeit generally through WhatsApp and Social Media about best ways of staking trees, pruning, soil types, the many species of Pine and Cedar trees (I really went down the rabbit hole here). I take stock and think ‘Right done, time to move on to some garden glitz and glamour’.  We’ve moved into the light, astronomically Spring has just sprung along with my Sweet Pea seedlings.

Sweet Peas, Lathyrus odoratus will always hold a very special place in my heart. Being the daughter of a very keen gardener, it was really only when the Sweet Peas were picked and placed in a vase in the middle to  the kitchen table when my 8yr old self would say ‘Ok, now I understand gardening!’. Today that Sweet Pea fragrance brings memories of everything else that a kitchen garden yields during those summer months along with endless days playing outside in the meadow grass, riding ponies, picnics, cousins, everything that I hold dear to my childhood. Maybe because of these memories I am now a very keen Sweet Pea grower. They completely encapsulates summer for me.

Sowing - I sow my first Sweet Peas in January and from then on until April I sow successionally every 2 weeks. Some people sow them as early as October. The longer sowing period they have, the stronger root system they develop. They like to form a long root structure so use deep pots, peat free sowing compost and you can even add some leaf mould if you have any. I usually add leaf mould as I pot them on and harden them off outside before planting.

Where to plant - Sweet Peas are very versatile, you can grow them in any sized garden, in pots, up trellises on balconies or even drain pipes.  I use teepees made from hazel sticks and tall metal obelisks. They like to ramble as high as 2 metres so they really add impact to your vertical garden.

Wherever you do decide to plant them, just remember they like a sunny position but with well drained, moisture retentive soil, so don’t forget to water them if they are in pots. If feeding them use a high potash fertiliser, such as tomato feed,.I plant my sweet peas in the kitchen garden in amongst my vegetables. This adds colour, scent and interest to the space and more importantly attracts bees that will also pollinate your fruit and vegetables.

Care - Before planting your sweet peas outside make sure that you’ve been pinching out the main stems above at least 2 sets of true leaves to encourage bushy and floriferous plants. Harden off your plants by putting them outside during the day and bringing them in at night until you feel that they have acclimatised - this could be for about week. Then, when all risk of frost has disappeared plant them them out either side of your vertical uprights. Keep the roots moist and clear of weeds especially as they get going. You might need to add in pea sticks to tie the young stems onto before they are robust enough to reach their frame. As soon as they start flowering just keep picking and they will keep giving. If you are not picking them for cut flowers keep dead heading so that they don’t go to seed and stop flowering.

Choosing your Sweet Peas. There are so many varieties that you can choose from and the task of choosing can be quite daunting especially if you’re buying online. I choose a selection from 3 varieties - Old Fashioned, Spencer and Modern Grandiflora. The Old Fashioned varieties tend to be the most highly scented. Usually you will see a scent guide on your Sweet Pea packet from 1-5, 5 being highest scent. The first Sweet Pea to arrive on the UK shores was the Sweet Pea Cupani Lathyrus odoratus Cupani. This is a very attractive and highly scented bicolour flower. It is believed to have been introduced to the UK from Sicily in 1699 by the monk, Francis Cupani, It’s very closely related to the wild strain found growing in Southern Italy. I sow this variety for it’s wonderful deep magenta and purple petals and also find it to be very hardy with a long flowering season. Another Old Fashioned favourite of mine is Mrs Collier; a prolific variety with a high scent that compliments all colour palettes. The newer Spencer and Grandiflora hybrids offer a greater range of colour, length of stem and more flower heads to a stalk. They don’t fall short on fragrance either but personally I have a soft spot for the Old Fashioned humble Sweet Peas that don’t boast but draw you in to inhale their sweet scent. Just close you eyes and you’ll be transported to somewhere very carefree and beautiful.


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