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Grow your Sweet Peas with Easton Walled Gardens

Posted on March 22, 2024 in Stories

Welcome to our first series blog on growing sweet peas with Easton Walled Gardens.

Here at Easton Walled Gardens we are famous for our annual Sweet Pea Season, starting at the end of June. We grow over 40 varieties each year, our Autumn sown seeds grow over winter and we then plant those in and around the Vegetable Garden and Pickery. It’s a delight for the senses to wander down between the towers of glorious scented flowers each summer.
In Spring we sow our second lot of seeds and these grow on quickly and are planted out into our walled garden display bed, we use these to collect the seed and this is what we sell in our Courtyard shop and online. We thought you could join in with us on this journey from Spring sowing and we will take you through each step to create your own wonderful displays.
With everything great, the first step is planning and preparation. At Easton, Ursula Cholmeley, garden owner and our Head Gardener Tim, sit down early on and decide which varieties they would like to use. When doing this yourself there are a few things to consider, such as do you want your flowers for cutting or do you want to use them in a garden display, clambering up a teepee or trellis? What space do you have? There are even sweet peas you could grow in a pot if you are limited on space. Consider your colour scheme and if a stronger scent is important to you. If you check out our shop page on the website we list all of the varieties we sell so you can lose yourself in dreaming of summer, then short list them down or get hooked and make more room in your garden to fit them in!
You will see on the website that there are different ‘types’, these are how sweet peas are classified with the Sweet Pea Society and is a helpful criteria to choose which are best for you, however the history and naming of sweet peas is an interesting story full of mystery and intrigue and its fair share of drama. We sell the Roger Parsons book about sweet peas which is a wonderful read, but to suffice for now here’s what might help you choose.
There are grandifloras, these are some of the first sweet peas developed from the wilder forms, so are often described as heritage or old fashioned. Grandifloras have plain petals and grow vigorously but not quite as tall as the modern varieties. If you are looking for a smaller bushier plant, for a large pot or smaller space, try Painted Lady, one of the original varieties, with pink and white flowers and a delicate scent.
Modern, or Spencers, have been bred to be tall prolific plants, they have long racemes with large wavy blooms, perfect for cut flowers and they smell delicious. However they can grow up to 8ft, hence why we grow up tall towers for the superb dramatic effect. This can be replicated easily at home or by growing them along tall long wires. If you would struggle with the height, try cordon growing and that way you would have cut flowers for months on end.
Finally there are Semi Grandifloras, these are as you might guess a mix of the others. For sweet peas to be classified, specialists refer to the ‘Keel’ being open or clamped. The Keel or carina is the hooded part within the flower where the interesting stuff goes on inside. On Grandifloras this is clamped and on Moderns it is open and that’s where it gets complicated. But for the benefit of home growing all you need to know is that these are not quite as large and dont have such long flower stems as the modern, which makes them perfect for the average garden. The bonus with semis is boy do they smell amazing. One of the first of these ever produced was Albutt blue and is said to have the strongest scent of all the sweet peas. It no wonder it’s one Ursula Cholmeley’s favourites.
Here are some others that Ursula has chosen as her recommendations;
In Grandifloras, Toffee Apple ( which was discovered here at Easton) and Prima Donna, but we make up a beautiful Heritage mix seed too.
In Moderns, Border Beauty and Duo Salmon, and yes we have made up a wonderful modern mix with the best choices.
And in the Semi Grandifloras it has to be Albutt Blue, a delightful white wavy flower with stunning Blue picotee edge. Also Kingfisher, Watermelon and Cathy are recommended.
So, once you have chosen and ordered your seed, there are a few other things you will need to gather ready for the next part, sowing!
Compost – A good multi purpose compost is fine at this stage, you do not need or want one that has extra feed, this would lead to weak and leggy plants at the early stage. Here at Easton we sow into a mix of 50/50 compost and vermiculite, so grab a bag of that too. Vermiculite helps with drainage, so that your seeds don’t rot before they germinate and it also prevents the first shoot rotting at the base until the strong side shoots develops.
Root Trainers – We use root trainers as we believe it helps to develop a healthy strong root system, it also helps to prevent too much damage when you come to planting out. It’s not vital to use root trainers; you can grow in normal pots and some growers even grow into a seed tray.
A warm spot – it’s a good plan to know where you are going to put all of your seeds once you have sown them, we have all been there with eagerness to sow in the Spring but then found there’s not a surface in the house that hasn’t got a seed tray on it! As hardy as sweet peas are, they do initially need some heat to germinate and being still March, outside is just not that warm at the moment. We have the luxury of a heat bench, but a smaller propagator and even just a sunny windowsill will suffice, and it’s only for a week or two until they have germinated.
Lastly, labels – however much you think you will remember the names, you won’t ! so always label clearly. In one year we grow approx 90 varieties and we then set them out in alphabetical order for your delight as you walk around them, so labelling is vital to us.
And that’s it, enjoy dreaming of your summer displays, if you can get to visit the gardens to pick your seeds in the courtyard shop it is well worth it. This week we have been planting out the first of our Autumn sown varieties and you can check out how this is done and anticipate the scent of summer whilst wandering the stunning gardens full of Spring.
You can watch our video here for more information
I will look forward to seeing you and of course catching up next time when we start sowing.