Gardens Ablaze

Sweet Pea
(Lathyrus Oderatus)
Until man duplicates a blade of grass, nature can laugh at his so called scientific knowledge......Thomas Edison

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If one set out to compile a list of gardener's dream plants, Sweet Pea would come in at or near the very top of that list.  This is a plant that has it all - bright color, profusion of blooms,  intoxicating fragrance, ability to climb, and easy care.  Considered cool season annuals, most Sweet Peas are climbers that send out tendrils that wind around their support, forming a kind of coil that allows the plant to adjust the amount of tension needed to hold itself up.  Breeders have been working with Sweet Peas for centuries, and perennials have been developed, but beware - perennial Sweet Peas have lost their scent in the process.  To me, Sweet Peas without their scent are like a candy wrapper without the candy.  Pretty package, but just not the same.  Bush and dwarf Sweet Peas also exist and might be fun to play with, but the heart and soul of these plants is still in the old fashioned climbing varieties.

Sweet Peas are rarely found in the bedding plant section of garden centers in the spring.  Therefore, home gardeners usually start them from seed.  The seed has a hard coat that can be nicked with a nail clipper or rubbed on sandpaper to speed up germination.  This is not absolutely necessary if you are not in a hurry, however.  As cool season plants, Sweet Peas should be started in early spring as soon as the ground can be worked in cooler climates.  In warmer climates (about zone 7 and up), they can be started in the fall and mulched well for early spring bloom.  Seed germinates best in cool soil of about 60 degrees, give or take.  Seeds can be sown inside in flats or outside directly in the garden - whatever is more convenient.  In the garden a 1 inch trench is often dug and the seeds dispersed into it a few inches apart.  Once seedlings are up, they will withstand frost, so don't despair if the weather turns ugly after they have sprouted.  Slugs, snails, and birds will make quick work of tasty Sweet Pea seedlings, unfortunately, so unless your garden is totally well-balanced with no such problems, you will need some kind of netting to keep out birds and a slug barrier or deterrent such as small, coarse rocks or a copper slug barrier available at most garden stores.  Once the plants are of good size, these problems diminish and finally disappear.  Pinching when the plants are young is always a good idea with Sweet Peas to make bushier plants.  Obviously, you will need some sort of support for the mature plants too.  This should be in place before the seedlings go in and can be string, branches, or a store-bought trellis.  Plants grow to 6 feet or more, so give them a tall enough support or they will flop over.  Sweet Peas will decline as the weather turns hot, and once they are past their prime, they should be pulled and placed in the compost pile.  The good news is that they often self-seed, and once you have grown them, you will probably see them again. 

Once your plants are blooming, you can literally cut armfuls of colorful flowers to beautify and scent your whole house in a romantic honey/orange blossom scent.  Flower colors are vivid blues, oranges, reds, pinks, whites, and pastels, with the only missing color being yellow.  Bouquets of  Sweet Peas will easily last up to a week if the water is kept fresh and a small portion of the stems are cut back daily. 

Although Sweet Peas are close family members of garden peas, they are not edible and are actually moderately toxic to humans and animals, so keep those pretty bouquets out of reach of small children and pets. 

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