Heaven scent but hell of a glutton

Sweet peas are often considered to be the scent of summer. Everyone seems to love them, to covet them, and it’s not all that long ago that just about every garden grew them.

And they aren’t all that difficult to grow; once you give them the right conditions they will flourish.

But for something which smells so sweet, Lathyrus is a bit of a dirty eater – and a glutton. To help it achieve its true potential it needs – nay, demands – plenty of muck around its roots. The more well-rotted manure it can get, the better.

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So, the ability of sweet peas to produce such a nose-stunning scent is remarkable.

Normally, if you want the strongest, the fittest, the best sweet peas possible, you sow the hard-coated seeds in autumn, wait for them to germinate and eventually turn into healthy young plants to be planted out in early spring.

But if you missed the autumn sowing, you can still sow the seeds now. Some gardeners soak them for 24 hours or chip them, nicking the hard coating with a sharp knife. This encourages germination.

Pop one seed into a pot filled with decent compost and water well. They may need a bit of heat to germinate but you are aiming for strong compact plants so bring them up “hard”.

When the first four leaves have formed, nip out the top two leaves to encourage bushiness.

Keep them in a coldframe or a cold greenhouse but don’t pamper them – give them plenty of light and air. Close the frame or greenhouse door and windows only when bad weather is forecast.

When the threat of frost has gone, the sweet peas can be planted outdoors in the spot where they are to flower – a spot where the soil has been enriched with all that healthy manure.

Sweet peas love the sun and they love to climb, so any south-facing wall or fence should do fine. Alternatively, tie them to canes or let them twine their clinging tendrils through the foliage and stems of other plants.

Sweet peas make excellent cut flowers for indoors – and the more you cut for the vase, the more blooms the plants should produce. Just don’t let them set seed and you’re virtually guaranteed months of enjoying the sweet smell of success.