Sweet peas can take the cold

January 3rd, 2020 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sweet peas 'Blue Shift', 'Spanish Dancer', 'Erewhon' and 'Gwendoline'

I’m always bashing on here about how important it is to sow sweet pea seeds in the autumn, to grow the strongest plants that will flower for the longest possible time. But you know what? It doesn’t always happen. Life gets in the way.

But if you have any sort of protection – a cold frame, some plastic cloches, even a low fleece tunnel you used to keep carrot fly off the carrots – anything that provides a little protection will help January sown sweet pea seeds germinate a little more quickly and grow a little more strongly.

And here’s something to think about. In 1909, at Cornell University in New York state, they sowed a sweet pea trial. They sowed the seed in succession in October and November, and some of it germinated before winter set in while some germinated in the following April.

But here’s the thing. New York state is cold in the winter, far far colder than here. We’re talking about temperatures getting down to -23C to -29C. And whether the seeds germinated before the winter or later, they flowered the following summer. This proves they can take the cold.

I’d suggest sowing in 12cm pots, six seeds in each, and standing them under the cloches or fleece. To be honest, slugs and mice will be more of a danger than cold so be sure to take precautions.

Varieties? Well, the new and exclusive varieties like ‘Mayflower 400’ and ‘Our Harry’ might well sell out so they should be high on the list to order and sow now. There’s also one you should never be without, ‘Gwendoline’ (bottom left), for its beautiful colouring and powerful fragrance.

I’d also remind you about three varieties in unusual colourings that I recommend. ‘Blue Shift’ (top left) changes colour from reddish mauve to true blue, ‘Spanish Dancer’ in cream (almost yellow) and rich and rosy reddish pink and finally ‘Erewhon’, a reverse bicolour with purplish blue lower petals and pink upper petals.

All are well scented and won’t disappoint. Just be sure to keep the slugs and snails off.

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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