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The Sweet Life

No memory of your childhood would be complete without reminiscing about the dazzling colours and the alluring scent of the sweet peas that were grown in your grandparents’ garden. This autumn is the time to create some new memories for your family by growing sweet peas yourself.


How to sow and grow

Having travelled to the Chelsea Flower Show as a tour leader for Ross Garden Tours since 2008, I have always been in awe of the Gold Medal winning sweet peas from Eagle Sweet Peas, the o‚cial sweet pea supplier to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Since then, I have always followed the unique seed raising and growing tips recommended to me by Derek Heathcote, the owner and breeder of Eagle Sweet Peas.

Traditionally in Australia, gardeners sow sweet peas on St Patrick’s Day (17th March). However, April and May are more suitable due to the cooler weather.

For award-winning sweet peas, seeds are best sown in pots. There is no need to soak or chit seeds. Use 140mm pots and fill three- quarters full with quality potting mix. Soak pots in a bucket of water and allow to drain. Place 6-8 seeds in each pot and cover with 1-2cm of dry potting mix. Don’t water again until they germinate in 7-14 days. Place the pots in a cool area protected from overhead rain or irrigation – under the eaves of your house is perfect. In cold areas with heavy frosts, place them in a cold greenhouse over winter.



After germination, move pots to where they will receive rainfall. When there are three sets of leaves, nip out the growing tip with scissors or secateurs to bush them out. Once the plants fill out the pot – usually after a few weeks – plant out either in the garden or into large pots. I plant 3-4 different varieties of sweet peas in a 60cm high and wide pot and install a metal frame or trellis for them to climb.

Always use a premium potting mix and add a handful of controlled release fertiliser and lime. Place canes around the sides and middle to help the peas start growing up the frame. Position the pot in full sun and turn regularly for even growth. Keep a look out for snails and slugs that can attack seedlings and powdery mildew that can cause leaves to yellow and reduce flowering.

Liquid feed regularly with a high potash fertiliser, like Richgro Black Marvel Rose and Flower Food or Yates Thrive Roses & Flowers Liquid Plant Food, to encourage an abundance of colourful and perfumed flowers in spring.

Dead head fading blooms to prolong flowering and cut some to enjoy indoors too. For long exhibition blooms, remove side shoots and tendrils. At the end of spring or early summer before sweet peas finish and die down, collect seed pods to store for sowing next year.

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Author: WORDS AND IMAGES: COLIN BARLOW