BRIAN KIDD: Scent from the gods – the sweet smell of an English garden

Sweet peas will grow well in almost any garden, if they can reach for the stars
Sweet peas will grow well in almost any garden, if they can reach for the stars

SOUTHSEA GREENHOUSE: Enjoying an early harvest

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What about growing sweet peas?

People are always talking about the lack of fragrant blooms in the garden, well here’s a plant which will grow well in almost any garden, provided they can get up into the sunshine.

Even if you don’t have a garden there are varieties especially bred for window boxes, tubs and hanging baskets. Look for Bijou Mixed or Explorer.

If you do have a good sunny spot with plenty of height available and want the quickest possible screen, grow sweet peas especially bred for the exhibitor. You should get four or five blooms to 10in-long stems from June until August.

Make sure the varieties you choose are fragrant. Not all exhibition types are.

Serious growers will tell you to sow in October in a cold frame, but one of our best commercial exhibitors always sows his in the first week of April in a temperature of 18C (65F). But if you’re like me and can’t get a constant 18C then the airing cupboard is ideal.

Mid-April is fine for seed-sowing, but ensure the seed packet has ‘fragrant’ on it.

Sweet peas should be sown in deep pots because they make a long initial root. Save cardboard tubes from toilet and kitchen rolls. Sow two seeds in each tube using any seed-sowing compost to fill the tubes. Yes, cut kitchen roll tubes in half.

Another method is to use tubes of rolled newspaper keeping them in shape with rubber bands.

Sweet pea seeds have a hard coat so shake them in dry sand in a glass jar with a screw top for five minutes and soak them overnight in rain wate. This ensures the seeds swell and if sown in the warm will germinate in about 10 to 20 days.

As soon as they germinate, put them in full light and once there are eight pairs of leaves, nip out the tops to encourage strong stems to emerge at the base.

Meanwhile, ensure the place where they will grow is well-cultivated.

Dig a 12in trench, three feet wide and add as much organic matter as you can – compost, well-rotted manure, mushroom manure or rotted grass mowings. When the seedlings are ready the ground will have settled and the soil bacteria started turning the organic matter into humus.

Staking is vital: eight feet long canes are best inserted in the ground so 10in of each cane is buried. Plant them eight inches apart with 12-15in between rows.

Ten days before planting out in mid-May scatter fish blood and bone or Vitax Q4 fertiliser at a rate of 4oz per square yard over the soil surface and rake in to a depth of three inches.

After 10 days plant the plants one to each cane. As they grow, tie in the leaf stalks to the cane pinching out all tendrils and side shoots. Do this daily and the first bloom buds will form once the stems are four feet.

TIP OF THE WEEK

Now’s the time to buy lovely Surfinia petunias, scaevola, ivy-leafed geraniums and other gems to grow in baskets and tubs.

These can all be propagated by keeping them warm in a propagator. Pinch out the plants’ tips and they will produce side shoots. Cuttings a few inches long can be taken to increase the number of plants.