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Gardening with Gael - Not those kinds of peas



thumbnail sweet pea-529“Oh look,” said a friend as we perused a seed stand. “Sweet Peas. I’ll get some of those.” I have never managed to get sweet peas in on time in spite of loving their fragrance and the wavy nature of their blooms. The gift of a bunch of sweet peas is one of life’s great pleasures. In response to my delight at purchasing some seeds I decided others may like a reminder too.

Sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) became a garden favourite in the early 1900s when a mutation of the original petal form produced a larger wavy petal and enthusiasts cultivated this larger form. This sweet pea was a summer flowering form. Sweet peas are governed by photoperiodism and the original sweet pea required 12 hours daylight to initiate flowering. During the 1960s Dr Keith Hammett became interested in sweet peas and has worked to produce sweet peas that flower during shorter daylight hours. He also produced the popular bi-colour range. Here in New Zealand we have varieties that flower during summer winter and spring.

Now where to plant these timely seeds? Sweet peas prefer full sun, although they can tolerate some partial shade. The seeds are placed straight in the soil, and from what I read, planting now and growing through the winter elicits a stronger plant. Because they are climbers they require some support. My fences all face the wrong way and the only spot that’s ideal is a water tank . I have pruned back a dead hibiscus to provide something for them to climb on. They can use their tendrils to climb on the plant – not ideal, but facing the right way and near the clothesline where I can keep an eye on them.

I dug out the sand and added some of my magic formula from under my pile of grass clippings. The rain we have had has hastened the composting of my grass clippings and I now have barrowloads of crumbling black soil. Compost is essential for sand gardens but it also improves the texture of clay. Without the compost the water will just ‘run off’ the sand. Conversely too much water and the seeds can rot. If the area is very damp just raise the bed before planting. My Yates Garden Guide recommends planting March to April but elsewhere May to June is recommended as well. The fact that our seeds are now up and growing is reassuring. A sprinkling of lime is also recommended.

If some seeds appear smaller or a little shrivelled my Yates Garden Guide says that they may well be different colours and not to discard them.

There are many varieties. I bought ‘Symphony Mixed’ and ‘Mammoth Mixed’. I must look out for ‘Tiffany’ which has strong stems and large flowers. The shorter daylight hours varieties developed by Dr Keith Hammett are called ‘Solstice’. Now they are up, with regular food and sun and rain (and some worm wee) I am looking forward to picking my own bunch of sweet peas.


Set bait traps for rats near or under magnolias to prevent them eating the new buds.

Despite what the name says, sweet peas may smell sweet but are not for eating. PHOTO/GROWORGANIC.COM


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