Sweet smell of success; As Sweet Pea Week approaches, Hannah Stephenson offers tips on how to make the most of the climbers.
THE myriad colours and delicious scent of the sweet pea have made this popular annual as synonymous with the summer cottage garden as the English rose.
These easy-to-grow climbers are at home in borders, weaving their way up wigwams and obelisks or scrambling through shrubs, or in the vegetable garden grown with green beans, encouraging pollinating insects to the area which will in turn create a better crop.
"The key to every sweet pea is the size of its root. The longer you can allow the roots to grow, the better blooms you will have," says Lady Ursula Cholmeley, owner of Easton Walled Gardens in Lincolnshire, which raises hundreds of sweet pea plants from seed in the greenhouses, which can be seen in full bloom during Sweet Pea Week, July 3-10.
Gardeners whose sweet peas are looking weak and wishy-washy should boost them with a foliar feed which you can attach to your garden hose or dilute with water in a watering can. A feed such as Growmore is ideal, she says.
"However, if you've prepared the soil well beforehand, adding plenty of organic matter, you shouldn't need to feed them," she notes.
You can sow them twice a year, once in late autumn and again in spring, to ensure a succession of blooms throughout the summer. Autumn-sown plants flower in early summer, spring-sown varieties later on in the summer.
Sow sweet peas in autumn in a cool greenhouse or cold frame in regular potting compost. Once the seedlings start to grow they need to be kept as small as possible, so avoid giving them any warmth.
They can be planted out in spring, in a sunny position and will withstand light frost.
Spring-sown varieties can be sown directly into the ground and should flower later on in the summer.
At Easton Walled Gardens, more than 50 types of sweet pea - heritage, modern, scented, striped, edged and bi-colour sweet peas - are displayed on canes, drums and wigwams throughout the pickery (cut flower garden), vegetable and cottage gardens.
All sweet peas need to be staked however, the plants can only cling to narrow supports, says Cholmeley.
"Sweet peas cannot climb up bamboo because it's too wide for their tendrils, so you need to put netting around a wigwam. They need full sun to develop their scent."
If scent is your priority, good varieties include 'Matucana', a deep purple and maroon variety, and 'Painted Lady', an attractive pink and white bi-colour from the 18th century.
Among Cholmeley's favourites is 'Promise', which is pink and white, and the deep red 'Winston Churchill'.
Don't plant with anything which is going to compete for nutrients.
Avoid placing next to crocosmias, which carry a virus that will spread to the sweet peas.
The more you cut sweet peas, the more they will flower. Never let them go to seed or that sends a message to the plant that flowering is over.
Many gardeners report little black beetles (pollen beetles) in flowers, which puts them off cutting them for indoors.
"If you have this problem, when you pick them put them into a dark place with one light source (they are attracted to light), then they will head towards that light source and you can take the flowers into the house."
The beetles are also attracted to yellow flowers, so consider growing a 'sacrifice plant' such as a hypericum with large, bright yellow flowers, next to the sweet peas.
Summer cabbage SUMMER cabbage remains one of the cheaper veg to buy, but it''s far tastier when you grow it yourself. Harvesting should begin now, when heads are firm and before caterpillars and mealy aphids attack.
Cabbages need to be planted in soil which has been previously enriched and they prefer a slightly alkaline soil.
For the earliest crop, sow quick-maturing varieties in pots in February, keep in an unheated greenhouse. Water regularly. Plant out in May, when around 12cm tall, with at least four leaves. Water well. Cover newly-planted cabbages with fleece or fine netting to stop pests.
When the cabbage is ready for harvesting, cut off the head leaving as much stalk as possible. Make an X-shaped cut across cut end and 1.5cm deep. Sprinkle a nitrogen fertiliser and after six weeks four small heads should have formed from the old stalk.
Good early cabbages include 'Derby Day'', ''Hispi'' and 'Golden Acre Primo'.'.
Clematis WHETHER you want big, bold, brazen blooms or more delicate, subtle flowers, there is a clematis for you and every garden should have at least one, preferably more. They can be grown up walls and trellises or through shrubs, adding colour and interest to evergreens. Choose more than one variety and you can have colour throughout spring, summer and autumn. Choose your variety carefully, checking how vigorous the plant is. If in doubt, ask at your garden centre.
When planting, make the hole twice the diameter of the container the plant came in and plant at least 5cm deeper than the top of the rootball, soaking the plant well beforehand and filling around the rootball with compost when planting.
Some thrive in sun, others in shade but most like to have cool roots so if your plant is in sun, put crocks, broken tiles or pebbles around the soil surface to protect it from the heat.
? Give extra water to plants growing at the base of walls where the soil can be very dry, despite rain.
Dig out or spot-treat individual weeds such as dandelions.
Sow quick-maturing annuals such as clarkia, candytuft and cornflower to fill in any gaps in your border.
Select strong, healthy strawberry runners for propagation.
Propagate African violets, begonias and streptocarpus by taking leaf cuttings.
Give outdoor tomatoes a mulch of manure or compost over the roots.
Water early potatoes once a week to ensure good yields.
Cut down early flowering perennials such as delphiniums and nepeta to tidy them up and encourage a second flush of blooms later in the year. ? Cut back large and overgrown Clematis montana after flowering, to encourage new growth.
Water containers and hanging baskets daily and deadhead regularly.