Here’s how to get your garden smelling sweet this summer – Brian Kidd

Delicate, beautiful and fragrant sweet peas.
Delicate, beautiful and fragrant sweet peas.
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What about growing some lovely sweet peas this summer? People often complain about a lack of fragrance in the garden, but here’s a plant which will grow well in almost any garden if they can get up into the sun.

No garden? There are varieties bred for window boxes, tubs and hanging baskets; look for Bijou mixed or Explorer.

If you have a sunny spot, there is plenty of height available and you want a quick screen, grow tall sweet peas bred for the exhibitor. You should be successful with up to five blooms on stems which are more than 10in long and you will be able to pick bunches from June until August. Make sure you choose seeds that are fragrant as not all exhibition types are perfumed.

Serious growers tell you to sow seeds in October in a cold frame, but one of our best commercial exhibitors always sows in the first week of March in a temperature of 18C (65F). If, like me, you can't get a constant 18C try the airing cupboard. Mid-April is quite suitable for sowing.

Sweet peas like deep pots as they make a  long initial root. Cardboard tubes from toilet and kitchen rolls are ideal. Sow two seeds in each tube using any seed sowing compost to fill the tubes. Cut kitchen paper tubes in half. You could make tubes of rolled newspaper. Keep them in shape with rubber bands.

Sweet pea seeds have a hard coating. Shake each variety in dry sand in a screw-top jar for five minutes and soak overnight in rain water to ensure the seeds swell. If sown in the warm they will germinate in 10-20 days. When this happens put them in full light. When eight pairs of leaves have developed nip out the tops to encourage strong stems from the base.

Make sure the place where they will grow is well cultivated. Dig a trench 12in deep and three feet wide and dig in as much organic matter as you can. This can be compost or well-rotted manure, rotted grass mowings or rotted bedding from rabbits and guinea pigs. Once seedlings are ready to be planted the ground will have settled and the soil bacteria started turning the organic matter into humus.

Staking is important if you want long stems. Eight feet long canes are best. Insert these in the ground so 10in of each cane is buried. They are best eight inches apart with 12-15in between the rows.

Ten days before planting out in mid-May, scatter fish blood and bone or Vitax Q4 fertiliser at four ounces a square yard over the surface. Rake in to a depth of three inches. After 10 days plant the plants one to each cane. As they grow, tie in leaf stalks to the cane and pinch out all tendrils and side shoots. Do this daily and the first buds will form once the stems reach four feet.

If you can't be bothered with this, get a bundle of pea sticks and create a wigwam. Plant the plants and leave them alone. You will still have a good show but have shorter stems.This won’t affect the perfume.

If you sowed the seeds earlier you will be able to plant them out now. 

This week’s top tip: 

Make sure you have some horticultural fleece handy just in case we have a hard frost. This can still happen any time up to the middle of May. Severe frosts will penetrate the glass if there is no heat in the greenhouse.​​​​​​