Autumn is Sweet Pea season

Sweet peas

In 1699, a Sicilian monk called Franciscus Cupani sent seeds of the local wild sweet pea to his friend, English schoolmaster Dr Robert Uvedale. This was the beginning of a love affair between gardeners and sweet peas that continues to this day.

Little was heard of the sweet pea for the next 100 years or so, but English gardeners had become intrigued by the flower’s charming fragrance, and the sweet pea was on its way to becoming a garden favourite. By the late 1800s, plant breeders were busily crossing and hybridising sweet peas to produce an enormous range of flower shapes and colours. During this period, Henry Eckford bred a grandiflora strain of sweet peas which had big flowers, a wide colour range and a lovely scent.

In 1899, one of Henry Eckford’s sweet peas mutated into a variety with large, wavy petals. This occurred in the garden of Althorp, the country seat of Earl Spencer, and the flowers bred from this strain became known as the Spencer sweet peas.

In recent years New Zealand has become one of the main players in the field of sweet pea breeding, largely because of the work of one man, Dr Keith Hammett. Born and educated in England, Keith migrated to New Zealand in 1967, bringing with him his great love for sweet peas. In subsequent years Keith worked to develop new sweet pea flowers that had the bicoloured characteristic of the original sweet pea. He has also put much effort into attempts to breed the elusive yellow-flowering sweet pea.

A number of Keith’s sweet pea varieties are found in the Yates® seed range under the banner heading ‘The Hammett Collection’. Over the years, Yates® has refreshed its Hammett sweet pea selection by adding gorgeous new varieties – like Hammett’s Surprise, Sapphire and Blue Butterflies.

If you’d like to grow the authentic sweet pea as Nature first made it, look for the Original Sweet Pea in the Yates® seed range. Keith has authenticated the genetic material in this variety so that gardeners can once again grow the small flowered, bi-coloured, highly fragrant bloom that was first found in Sicily. The incredibly strong scent is something truly special.

Keith’s other magnificent sweet peas in the Yates® range include Blue Reflections, Patricia Ann (with distinctive veining in its petals) and Brilliant Fragrance.

Also found in the Yates® range is Bijou, a small-growing (to 60cm) variety that suits smaller gardens. Pink Diana’s long-stemmed, fragrant pink blooms make a great garden display but are also ideal for picking. There are many other sweet pea varieties available in the Yates® range so it’s worth checking out the Autumn seed stands.

Growing Sweet Peas

St Patrick’s Day, March 17 is the traditional date for sowing sweet peas but this date should be regarded as a guide, not a law. In cooler areas sweet peas are often better sown in Spring so they’ll bloom into early Summer. And some varieties are recommended for Spring sowing in all climates because they’e late (i.e. Summer) blooming.

Grow sweet peas in a sunny spot with good drainage. Make sure there’s some support for climbing varieties and choose an east-west orientation so they get as much sun as possible. Before you sow, add some complete fertiliser (e.g. Yates® Dynamic Lifter® Organic Plant Food) to the bed and, in most areas, a small amount of Yates® Thrive® Natural Garden Lime. Water the soil well the day before planting and sow into a moist bed. Try to avoid watering again until after the seedlings have emerged. As the young seedlings appear, poke in some small twigs that will help guide them to the climbing support.

Once the sweet peas begin flowering, pick them as much as you like. If any pods are allowed to form, this sends a signal to the plant that stops it flowering.

One of the sweet pea’s great advantages is that it’s a member of the legume family so the plants are able to feed themselves by making use of the nitrogen in the atmosphere. This means that, once the flowering’s finished, it’s worth the effort of digging the plants into the soil so that they can add their extra goodness.

Sweet peas can suffer from powdery mildew fungus, so always have a Yates® Rose Gun® in the garden shed. As well as controlling fungus, the Rose Gun will help take care of insect pests and mites.


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