SWEET PEA

H. A. Unless it is intended to grow these plants on the cordon system which produces larger blooms on extra long stems, digging 2 spits deep is not essential. If time can be spared to dig the second spit results will, of course, be better even without adopting the cordon method. Begin by removing all weeds, especially the deep-rooted perennials like docks and creeping buttercup, and work in plenty of organic matter to help retain moisture as sweet peas dislike dry soil. Peat, leaf mould and well-rotted farmyard manure are all suitable. Wood ashes and bonemeal should also be included.

Sweet peas can be grown in the same position for a number of years, provided the land is manured annually, although a change of site is really better after, say, 4 or 5 years.

Autumn sowings ensure a stronger root system, resulting in blooms about a fortnight earlier than spring sowings, and they are often larger with a greater depth of colour. Open ground sowings are at the mercy of heavy rains, hard frost, slugs etc., especially on heavy, cold soils. On light, warm soils in sheltered districts unprotected sowings may be practicable but it is preferable to sow in boxes or pots in a cold frame. Alternatively, open ground sowings can be protected with cloches in bad weather. Early October is the best time. Various mixtures are recommended for seed sowing but the amateur will do well to stick to the John Innes Seed Compost.

The seed coats of some varieties are very hard-skinned and are therefore relatively impervious to moisture. This means slow germination. To counter this, it is customary to ‘chip’ the seed by removing a tiny portion of the seed coat with a sharp penknife or file, on the opposite side to the ‘eye’. The old-fashioned method of soaking the seeds in water for 24 hours before sowing is also effective. Any seeds which still fail to swell are then chipped. Varieties with black or near black seeds are the chief offenders. They include Carlotta, Elizabeth Taylor, Midnight, Reconnaissance, Red Velvet, Tell Tale and Unwin’s Mixed Stripes.

For boxes and pots, sow the seeds about ½ in. deep, say half a dozen to a 5 in. pot or a couple of dozen to a box. Seedlings should emerge in about 10 days. The frame lights should be removed soon afterwards, and only replaced if severe frost is anticipated or in continous wet weather. Mouse traps on the pots or in the frame or warfarin baits will keep away these creatures which are very fond of sweet pea seed. Pinch out the growing point of each seedling at the end of December to encourage strong basal shoots. Plant out during late March or April when the soil is really friable. Pot-grown seedlings can be turned out of the pots and planted in clumps — one pot per clump which should be 3 ft. from the next one. Alternatively, the seedlings can be set not less than 9 in. apart in rows — note that autumn-sown seedlings usually make bigger plants and occupy rather more space than those from spring sowings. Late March to early May is the usual period for spring sowing. Sown double rows 10 in. apart. If more than one double row is being grown, allow 4 ft. between each pair so that you can walk comfortably and ‘get at’ all the plants without difficulty. Thin the seedlings to about 8 in. apart. Some amateurs sow in clumps about 2 ft. in diameter, allowing about 7 seedlings per clump. Proprietary bird scarers should be at hand as birds can quickly make havoc of young seedlings. Stretching strands of black cotton across the rows is also effective.

Pinch out the tops as soon as the first pair of leaves is fully developed, to encourage basal shoots.

Sweet peas must be firmly supported. Short twiggy sticks should be placed between the seedlings to keep them upright. The main support should consist of 7 or 8 ft. pea sticks or wire netting supported by stakes driven into the ground. Some enthusiasts use bamboo canes about 9 ft. long, allowing plants to reach the tops of the canes. They are then untied and laid along the soil, the top 3 — 4 ft. being tied to another cane, about 3 ft. away. This prolongs the flowering period by several weeks and often finer blooms are produced than before. With sweet peas supported by pea sticks, pinch out the growing points when the plants reach the tops of the sticks, as this encourages more flowering snoots at a lower level.

Remove all flower buds which appear, before the plants are about 21/2 ft. high. Flowering should start in early June and continue for at least 3 months if the plants are properly cared for. Never allow seed pods to form as this shortens the flowering period. Mulching with hop manure, damp peat etc., is desirable during dry weather. Many amateurs put on a mulch in late May and leave throughout the summer. If watering is unavoidable, give not less than 1 gallon per yard run. A complete fertiliser can be applied as soon as the first blooms appear.

Colour Range and Scent. The varieties listed in subsequent paragraphs cover the full colour range at present available (there is, of course, no yellow sweet pea). Very fragrant kinds are mentioned. Note that the darker colours are generally the most fragrant, c. g. purple, mauve, blue, lavender, maroon, rose-pink. Orange, salmon-pink and cream-pink usually have very little scent. Cream and white varieties are variable. The term duplex in the descriptions refers to the standard or upright petal at the back of the flower, which is termed duplex if there is an extra petal. So far, no fully double sweet pea has been marketed.

Cream, Ivory and White.

Cream Elegance: rich cream. Large, frilled blooms, mostly duplex. Very fragrant.

Gigantic: white. Huge duplex blooms, densely frilled. Dark-seeded. Very fragrant.

Ivory Prince: ivory with a faint pink flush towards the petal edges. Long-stemmed and very vigorous.

Swan Lake: a useful pure white for exhibition. Dark-seeded. Valerie: another white for exhibitors. Huge, frilled blooms. Very fragrant.

Crimson:

There are relatively few first-rate crimsons (but many excellent scarlets).

Clansman: mahogany-crimson with scarlet flushes.

Red Velvet: deep velvety blood-crimson. Very large blooms, often duplex.

Very fragrant.

Winston Churchill: perfectly placed, bright crimson blooms which are frilled and fluted, borne on long, stiff stems.

Scarlet and Cerise:

Air Warden: orange-cerise, verging on orange-scarlet. Sunproof.

Lady Cherry: warm cerise blooms on long, firm stems. Very vigorous.

Very fragrant.

Red Pepper: reddish orange-scarlet. Outstanding in very hot weather.

Extra long stems.

Streatley: rich salmon-cerise.

Welcome: an old variety, still worth growing. Vivid scarlet. Sunproof.

Blue, Lavender and Mauve:

Amethyst: bright amethyst-blue.

Artiste: pinkish-mauve.

Black Velvet: dark blue. Very large, frilly blooms.

Elizabeth Taylor: clear, rich mauve. Huge, frilly blooms.

Gertrude Tingay: deep lavender-lilac. Very fragrant.

Henley: pale lavender. Very fragrant.

Joyce: deep satiny-lilac. Colour improves after a few hours in water.

Very fragrant.

Mabel Gower: rich mid-blue.

Mrs C. Kay: clear lavender. Very fragrant.

Prince Charles: rosy-mauve.

Purple and Maroon:

Black Diamond: chocolate-maroon, verging on coal-black. Midnight: chocolate-maroon free from any purplish shading. Petunia Mauve: name describes the colour. Purple Velvet: rich purple. Very fragrant.

Salmon and Cerise:

Countess Baldwin: salmon, orange-scarlet and shrimp-pink.

Cynthia Davis: salmon-cerise paling towards the petal edges. Very fragrant.

Mary Malcolm: apricot-salmon.

Mollie Dunnett: salmon-cerise. Sunproof.

Radar: rich salmon.

Topper: Another good salmon-cerise, with huge blooms on firm stems.

Pink, including Pink on White Ground, Cream-pink and Salmon:

Annabel Lee: clear phlox-pink. Very fragrant. Betty: cherry-salmon.

Candy: soft salmon-rose. Blooms beautifully frilled and waved. Edith: salmon-pink on cream. Long stems. Very vigorous. Eglantine: blush-pink. Very fragrant. Mrs R. Bolton: almond-pink on white ground.

Patricia Unwin: golden-salmon-pink on cream. An old variety which should not be overlooked.

Piccadilly: cerise with salmon suffusion, pale cream base. Excellent for exhibitions.

Princess Elizabeth: one of the most beautiful of all varieties. Salmon-pink on creamy-buff which extends to the base of the bloom. Seeds are thin-skinned and liable to rot off. Sow in a light, sandy compost and avoid heavy watering.

Ojiebec: standard buff and salmon-pink, wings salmon pink passing to cerise.

Rapture: deep creamy-pink with soft salmon suffusion. Sextet Appleblossom: name describes the colour. Produces 5 or more blooms on a single stem, given reasonable cultivation.

Carmine.

Audrey: carmine-cerise with a suggestion of orange. Very popular. Carlotta: vivid rosy-carmine for exhibition.

Picotee.

Reconnaissance: deep cream with wide rose-coloured picotee edge. Rosy Frills: much the same colour combination as Reconnaissance, but very fragrant and with larger, very frilly blooms.

The strain known as Unwin’s Mixed Stripes embraces picotee shades of crimson, scarlet, rose, salmon, lilac, purple on the backs of the standards and upper sides of the wings. The ground colour is usually white or cream. They are mostly fragrant. Named varieties are available, including Fairy, which has a lemon ground with soft salmon-pink markings, Ink Splash, which is rich navy-blue on a white ground, and Twink, with orange-scarlet markings on a cream ground. The latter is sunproof.

The Zvolanck Plenti-Flora sweet peas carry 5 — 8 blooms per stem without special cultivation. The wide colour range and long, stiff stems do not altogether compensate for the somewhat awkward placement of the blooms which lack the refinement of most English varieties. It is expected that this strain will be improved in due course.

Dwarf Sweet Peas. The little Sweetheart race make neat, rounded bushes 9 — 12 in. high and as much across. A few short twigs are desirable for supports. Also useful for window-boxes. Seeds are rather hard and should be chipped or soaked before sowing.

Cuthbertson Cupids make compact, slightly domed plants about 4 in. high and 1 ft. across. They are exceptionally free-flowering and need no support. Also useful for window-boxes.

The early or winter-flowering sweet peas are grown in a slightly-heated greenhouse. Sow in August in pots in a cold frame and transfer to the greenhouse in October. They should bloom from Christmas onwards. This group is best grown without ‘stopping’ of any kind.

Sweet Peas for Cutting:

These are best cut when the top flower on the spike is still in the bud stage — cutting when the spike is fully open means that the lowest flower will soon drop. Most colours seem to improve after several hours in water, especially the lavender, salmon and orange tones.

Growing for Exhibition:

Sweet peas for exhibition are invariably grown on the cordon system, I.e. the plant is restricted to one or at the most two main stems, all side shoots and tendrils being removed directly they are noticed. They are trained up bamboo canes, one leader to a cane. Two strong posts are inserted at each end of the trench, the canes being tied to wire strained at about 6 ft.

Insect Pests and Fungus Diseases:

Aphids (greenfly) and thrips may be tackled by Pyrethrin or gamma-BHC (lindane) sprays. Caterpillars can usually be dealt with by hand picking but Pyrethrin is the answer if they are really troublesome. Slugs can be killed by a metaldehyde preparation. The virus disease known as ‘streak’ is denoted by brownish-black streaks and stripes on leaves and stems. There is no cure. Infected plants should be burnt. Mildew may be tackled by dusting with a sulphur preparation. Bud drop is a physiological trouble, often caused by over-watering. Sudden temperature changes can sometimes be responsible and on light, sandy soils dryness at the roots may be the explanation. Bud drop is usually less troublesome in the south of England than in the north or in Scotland.

SWEET WILLIAM

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