Cut flowers are possibly one of the most important crops in the kitchen garden, giving us splashes of colour throughout the season and linking the garden into the Manor. It is so rewarding seeing what our florists create in the hotel with our produce and of all the cut flowers we grow I am especially fond of our sweet peas.
We always try and get our first sowings of sweet pea in on bonfire night, and to get a really long season next year, make a second sowing in April. Our autumn sown plants should hopefully be flowering by late May and produce for about twelve weeks before the spring-sown ones take over supply, flowering into October.
Sweet peas have a long root run and so need a long thin pot to be sown in. At Gravetye we use specially designed cardboard tubes, but the cardboard tubes of old toilet rolls also do a really good job. As the cardboard is biodegradable they can be planted along with the sweet pea and the roots just grow through, without disturbance. We fill each toilet roll ¾ full with seed compost, give them a good soaking and then fill the remainder with dry compost. Each seed is planted one inch deep and they are all covered with damp newspaper to stop drying out. Then we keep them at about 15°c in the glasshouse and avoid any watering until the seed has germinated (when the newspaper is removed).
Once we have good germination we move our seedlings to the cold frame, to be over-wintered, initially keeping our babies quite snug but quickly toughening them up to be grown as hard as possible. Sweet peas are hardy down to -5°c and opening up the cold frame lights on all but the coldest days, ensures tough stout plants. It is always important not to over water during cold weather and if it gets very cold we cover the frames with old carpet, for extra insulation.
By the time spring is here we should have some good plants ready for planting out in the kitchen garden. These are put in to well matured soil, along an A frame of tall canes. Each sweet pea is planted one foot apart on its individual cane and the strongest stem is selected out and tied in. Then it is trained in a similar way to a tomato, removing the side shoots and curly tendrils, tying in the plant as you go. This is known as the cordon method producing much bigger flowers on longer stems. The training is quite a lot of work but worth it for the quality of some of the most beautiful flowers in the garden.
You can read Tom's latest article in Country Life 'The ultimate sweetness of the season' on our Press Page.
Gravetye Garden Blog
For all those eager to read more regular updates from the garden, then we have good news. Our head gardener Tom and his team are delighted to launch the Gravetye Garden Blog. Packed full of pictures and information on their work at Gravetye - look out for Tom’s plant of the week, as well as posts from exciting contributors.
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