Sweet peas are on trend for 2013, according to Matthew Appleby, who wrote a feature on them I commissioned recently in Weekend magazine. Of course, for many of us gardeners they've never been out of fashion: a timeless garden classic. I've been growing them for several years now, and sowing batches from October to December has become a bit of an autumn ritual.
It's worth sowing in autumn if you can: the seedlings get plenty of time to develop a tiptop root system and are ready to romp away when planted out in March or early April. Sowing in the cardboard inner toilet roll tubes filled with multipurpose peat free compost, one or two seeds per tube, gives the roots space to grow. (I fill a deep, round saucer with compost-filled tubes and hold them together with string so they don't topple.)
Usually I grow a hotchpotch of varieties, more for scent than colour coordination ('Kings' High Scent' and 'Perfume Delight' both from Kings' Seeds are particularly good), but I am always drawn to the darker colours, like the classic 'Matucana' (pictured above). So this year I thought I'd try out a new colour scheme: I am growing 'Blue Velvet' and 'Midnight' (both from T&M), and combining them with the species Lathyrus chloranthus 'Lemonade', with its lime-green flowers: a colour that should pop against the darkness of the other flowers.
Sadly, 'Lemonade' has no scent, but I am hoping the L. odoratus cultivars will live up to their name. I haven't sowing this yet, as the cultivation advice seems to suggest early spring sowing is best. But don't worry if you think you've missed the boat: it really is fine to sow these seeds any time through October to December. They'll need some kind of cover over winter - mine are in my potting shed, and get by swathed in some fleece when it's really cold. My other sweet pea tip is to put them somewhere easily accessible: some people find the deadheading, tying in and coaxing required to get sweet peas to perform their best a chore, but provided they're close at hand, just outside my patio window, I find tending to my plants and picking armfuls for the house for a few minutes each day a little piece of sweet pea heaven.
Above is a simple vase of flowers with a pink theme I picked last summer: with one dark sweet pea and one shocking pink one, plus sage leaves, red valerian, a pink rose, and blackcurrant sage flowers. If I can create something just as good in 2013, I'll be happy.