Sweet peas: Self-sustainable gardening at its most simple

Torbay Weekly

There is no doubt that some things are better in the colder weather.

Not just country pubs, coastal walks and lighting the log burner, but planting sweet peas in autumn is way better too.

For most people the scent of sweet peas is reminiscent of something or someone significant in the summer months.

For me it will always remind me of going to my favourite aunties house in sunny Lancashire and trying to make perfume from the flowers and picking off the pods to make more blooms.

I've kept the tradition going of sowing the seeds in mid-October so they will flower in spring and keep going through the summer.

When I first grew sweet peas, I found they flowered late in the summer and I was left nursing them through colder weather and not making the best of them.

Sowing them now will develop a healthy and greater root system so they can explode into bigger and more impressive flowers much earlier than sowing in spring.

They will be much more robust too if you can manage to keep the slugs, snails and mice away... yes mice!

The only time and care required is to keep them moist when they are outside which never seems that difficult given it can be at best mildly damp at times.

Give them a start indoors by planting them deep in compost in pots and then when they are a few inches tall they can go outside in a cold frame.

All last winter I was tiptoeing around them trying not to stir an exceptionally large frog I knew was hibernating under a pot in the cold frame.

If you don’t have a cold frame, you could easily use transparent storage boxes with the clips on the lid to keep the frost out.

Not being too practical at DIY tasks, growing them in pots at this time of year suits me as I don’t have to worry about creating some kind of cobbled-together structure for them to climb up.

They will climb relentlessly if they are fed once a week, but you really won’t have to worry about feeding them until spring comes round again.

You can keep them flowering by removing the pods that appear overnight as if by magic.

This redirects the plants energy into making flowers, not seeds.

If you do happen to let the occasional pod grow, you can keep the seeds in a dry paper bag for planting next year.

This really is self-sustainable gardening at its most simple.

My friend's dad has been doing this for over 20 years now.

Fortunately, he likes that particular variety of sweet pea, as more importantly does his wife.

Sweet peas are pretty hardy and will put up with most things.

Last year I had a self-seeded one grow through the winter in a pot open the elements.

You can sow any variety of sweet peas in autumn and popular ones are the provocatively named ‘Painted lady’, ‘Promiscuity’ and ‘Lipstick’.

There are so many varieties and colours from almost black through the spectrum to pure white. The white ones always remind me of something a snooker referee from the 1970s might wear.

They are all sweetly scented and will give you enormous pleasure while slowing you down to bend over and give them a sniff as you walk past. I can never resist.

Make sure you get the best possible seeds you can and some independent suppliers can offer a wider range.

Some people swear by soaking the seeds overnight, but I've never had an issue and have always had masses of frilly, scented flowers.

They are so easy to grow you might want to put some extra ones in and give them as presents to your neighbours at Christmas time.

That way you can enjoy seeing and smelling them next door as well.