Sweet pea is a great summer favourite, but act now if you want to grow a specific variety this year
Last week I wrote about getting out to see the green shoots already growing in the winter garden. This week, you can begin sowing new things for the coming year.
Sweet pea is a great summer favourite and we can always buy trays of seedlings later in the spring to ensure a pretty sweet pea show. But if you would like to grow a specific variety and a particular colour rather than settle for the understandably limited range that already grown seedlings offer, now is the time to source the seeds and get them off to an early start under glass.
One variety that comes to mind is the old fashioned ‘Matucana’, a bi-colour, scented flower. Sarah Raven calls it the strongest scented sweet pea in the world. Fighting talk, but she has an argument.
Its colours, magenta and purple, are rich and luscious. Combined with a fine perfume, this is a flower that can grace any circumstance.
I spotted a smart way to grow sweet pea in the Carlow garden of artist Phillipa Bayliss, last year.
Phillipa has a small, full to brimming with flowers and the way she grows her sweet pea could itself be described using the word brimming. She plants them into wall mounted, horse feeders, so instead of the plants climbing a trellis, as they are usually seen, hers drape out over the wall planters and tumble down in a glory of bloom and perfume.
When it comes to sowing sweet pea seed, it does best when sown in long, root-training pots or modules. There are plastic versions available in the garden centre but some people simply roll up newspaper and shape it around a toilet roll to make long nursery pots. Others use toilet or kitchen rolls themselves.
The good thing about both of these eco-friendly methods, apart from their being sustainable, is that when the time comes to transplant the seedlings into the ground, they do not need to be decanted from the nursery pots. The paper pots break down naturally and are composted into the soil.
Remember that when you do plant them out, make sure that it is into well-fed, rich, fertile soil. Think of all those scores of flowers – that sort of extravagant show requires feeding.
On the subject of feeding, I regularly meet people whose once pretty gardens are causing trouble. The general complaint is that the garden seems to be not thriving.
On hearing this, it is almost not necessary to see the garden in question, as in many cases the problem is that the place has been on a starvation diet for years.
People plant up a shrub or flower border and, apart from weeding and pruning, then leave it to its own devices. Sometimes they might sprinkle a bit of chemical fertiliser about but that is the extent of the attention. They then wonder, why, after a decade or so, the shrubs are not looking like superstars.
The briefest glance will show that the plants are growing from what looks like soil-coloured concrete. Try to burrow a finger into it and it will be met with solid, unyielding resistance.
This is the result of years of that soil feeding growing plants, coupled by years of the removal of - along with the weeds - fallen leaves and leaf litter because it looks untidy.
Leaf litter should have been left in-situ to be drawn down into the soil by worms and turned into food. Tidiness coupled with failure to feed is a sad way to treat plants.
The answer to both rock hard soil and failing plants is to pile on the garden compost or farm yard manure. The answer to most gardening woes is to feed the soil. Fertile soil leads to healthy plants and healthy plants can usually fight off disease and pestilence.
Mark this new decade with a vow to enrich your garden soil. Feed and pamper it a bit and you will be repaid back in multiples. If the ground has been left unfed for a number of years, you will need to repair it over several seasons.
Pile on a deep layer of compost now. Be generous. It should be up to 10cms deep.
It should be done now, but the effect will not be instant. The ground will not respond instantly, but gradually, over the course of the coming growing season, as the minerals and nutrients are washed down and pulled down by the worms to the roots, and gradually taken in to feed the plants.
At the end of the year, add another layer. You will notice that the first layer has disappeared. This is because it will have been incorporated into the soil. The winter layer too will be dragged down and incorporated over the cold months.
By next year, your plants will be transformed.