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Tricks of the trade for the perfect sweet pea.

IT'S about your last chance to sow sweet peas in pots for planting outdoors later this season.

But don't panic if you haven't already done it. There's good reason for sowing the seeds directly out of doors where you want your sweet peas to flower.

Typical members of the pea family, they don't need a lot of nitrogen in the soil, but they do need a good deep moisture retentive soil and not too much shade.

I don't like growing sweet peas in the same spot each year but some people have no choice. I would try to double dig the area if possible. Put your manure as deep down as possible and this way the roots will go down and reach for it.

If you want a last attempt at sowing them in pots, I would choose a three and half to five inch full depth pot.

I sow my seed about a quarter of an inch deep. Transplant them as soon as the first true leaves are beginning to emerge into three and a half inch pots individually.

When four leaves have appeared I would then pinch out the growing point to encourage at least two more branches so that I get a multitude of flowers.

If you are looking for exhibition varieties, when you have pinched the tip out, only allow one side shoot to develop. The extra vigour created by pinching out the growing point should ensure some of the best long stemmed blooms. Grow them up a cane or wire.

Another trick the show growers use is to cut off the tendrils, or twining bits, as this only takes the energy from the plant and again the effort of pruning improves the vigour.

Overall, sweet peas take a lot of beating and I love to see a wigwam of sweet peas grown over some canes. Alternatively they can be grown up a trellis, or some netting in the garden.

They are versatile plants and with the added benefit of the fragrance that many varieties have they really deserve a place in your garden.

The one I shall be trying this year is called Gwendoline, named after the wife of the new President of the National Sweet Pea Society, John Bishop.

When I saw it on trial in Cambridge last year at Unwins Seeds I noticed that the long stemmed blooms were lilac pink, washed on a white background and very heavily perfumed, something I consider essential with sweet peas.

It is said to be one of the most strongly scented of the Spencer type sweet peas and was bred by a good mate of mine David Kerley. He is also responsible for such good introductions as the trailing Petunia Priscilla, and I know he's got some more new introductions on the container plant up his sleeve.

Incidentally, Gwendoline collected the only award in the 1998 trials conducted by the RHS and the National Sweet Pea Society. It got the double award as an Award of Garden Merit and an Award of Merit for Exhibition. No other sweet pea in the trials was given such an accolade.
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Apr 4, 1999
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