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Of all the spring-flowering cottage garden flowers, sweet peas are probably the prettiest and most rewarding. But to enjoy an ample harvest of these bright and sweetly fragrant cut flowers, you have to prepare the soil properly before sowing the seed.
You will need:
- A sunny spot along a fence to act as a support structure for the tiny tendrils produced by the climbing varieties. You can also grow them on bamboo or steel tepees in the veggie garden as the flowers attract pollinators like bees
- Well-draining soil – a gentle slope is ideal if the soil is a bit heavy
- Garden refuse like small sticks, prunings, leaves and lawn clippings
- Good-quality compost
- Old kraal manure
- Sweet pea seeds
Water the area to be cultivated a day before you start, to make the digging easier. Prepare a 80cm deep trench in which you are going to plant your seeds. Keep the first layer of topsoil separate from the layers of deeper, poorer soil as you excavate. You can also add about 60g of bonemeal to the topsoil before backfilling the trench after spreading out the different organic layers. Digging a trench might sound like hard work, but your reward will be strong plants producing masses of flowers over a long period.
Types of sweet peas
Seeds of climbing sweet peas as well as bush varieties (dwarf varieties that don’t need staking) are available in mixed or single colours including white, red, pink, lilac and purple. It’s advisable to soak the seeds overnight in hot water and to sow them about 5cm deep. Follow the spacing directions given on the seed packet.
Keep the soil moist until the seeds have germinated, and then water regularly if the top layer of soil feels dry. A mulch of compost around the plants is recommended to shade the roots and keep the soil moist for longer. Feed the little seedlings once or twice with a growth stimulant like Kelpak to make them strong and healthy. When the seedlings have reached a height of about 15 cm, you can start pinching out their growth tips to encourage bushy plants with lots of flower-producing side branches.