SWEET PEA (Lathyrus odoratus)
Considering thathave been grown in the East for thousands o) years, it is somewhat remarkable that the Sweet Pea, prime favourite as it is now, was only brought to Britain from its native home in Sicily about two hundred years ago.
Stranger still is it that so few years back, within the memory of living gardeners, there was but one variety obtainable—the old small-flowered blue-purple sweet peas, loved rather for their fragrance than for colour or form.
Among the multiplicity of new colours and the elegance of new contours the Sweet Pea has mislaid only a little of the scent which was its early charm; the finest modern varieties give almost as much, if not quite as much fragrance in the garden and the vases. The Sweet Pea is so well known that it requires no description.
Methods of cultivation depend somewhat on whether Sweet Peas are wanted for the vase, for the beautification of the garden, or for exhibition.
Soil preparation must be thorough for cut flowers and garden decoration alike, if the best results are to be obtained. The first step is vigorous use of the spade in autumn. A deep trench should be dug, and well manured. If theis light, decomposed farmyard manure, or rotted garden refuse is the best addition. On heavy soils, strawy stable-manure is better, and dried leaves may be collected in the trench and dug in during the winter. Lime is essential in all cases.
Methods of Sowing
The simplest method, and that used frequently for cut-flower production, is to sow in a double row in March or April. Drills are drawn five inches apart and two inches deep (evenness being secured by the use of pegs, between which strings are stretched to mark the line required). In the bottom of the drills scatter a little soot.
Drop seeds two inches apart along each drill, cover, and tread the soil firmly over them. Then rake lightly, both for appearance and to give a friable top surface for the conservation of moisture.
Finally, dust soot over the surface. This discourages the unwelcome attention of snails and slugs.
In districts where cats are few, and mice abound, growers find it useful first to soak the seed in paraffin, and then to dust it over with red lead, to prevent it being eaten as soon as sown.
If packets of seed are bought, each of a separate colour, it is best to sow all one colour together, and to contrast the colours in rows or half rows. Mixed Sweet Peas are seldom as satisfactory as separate colonies, either for house decoration, or for the garden borders, and beginners would do best to use a collection of distinct colours; colours such as; Model, white; Fireglow, rose red; Flamingo, scarlet; Charming, cerise: Reflection, pale amethyst blue; Youth, white, edged rose; Elizabeth, lilac-pink on cream; The Flag Lieutenant, violet blue; Dainty Maid, blush pink; Olympia, purple.
These would give a wide colour-range from which vases could be filled to suit any room.
Whenappear, put in a few small feathery twigs. These will slightly protect seedlings from wind, and provide a temporary hold for the tiny tendrils. As soon as the plants become well developed, provide a row of strong twiggy pea-sticks between the two drills. The flowers will eventually clothe both sides of them.
Hoe the surface in dry weather, but not too near the plants or the roots may be damaged.
Further protection is given by a mulch of spent hops, which in dry weather helps to retain moisture.
Finally, remove dead flowers without delay. Cut with as long stalks as possible and cut liberally. The plants respond to this with liberal growth.
For Garden Decoration
Sowing varies according to the position of the garden as regardsand sunshine and the condition of the soil. In a sheltered garden, with warm light, loamy soil, September sowings can be made in the open ground. On cold clayey soil, or in exposed situations, it is wiser to sow in pots or boxes and leave the seedlings in the cold frame till March.
These sowings may be made in autumn or in January or February, as convenient. Autumn-sown seed usually results in earlier flowering, and plants are sturdier raised in a cold frame than in a heated greenhouse. When the young seedlings show their second or third pair of leaves, in spring, pinch out the centre tip and leave the plants till the side shoots begin to grow. Then pot them singly into small pots, filled with a mixture of old loam and leaf-mould and a little sand.
Stand these pots in the frame and as soon as possible admit air freely, except on frosty nights. This should cause strong, hardy plants to develop very quickly, and April should see them in good condition for.
Soil which was well-manured in winter will need little preparation beyond forking, but a few handfuls of bonemeal may be forked in, if desired.
Where clumps of Sweet Peas are to form part of the mixed border, dig a hole two feet in diameter and eighteen inches deep. Roughly fork in a handful of bonemeal at the bottom of the hole. Add a three- inch layer of well-decayed manure, and fill in the ordinary soil. Leave this to settle for a fortnight before planting.
Planting in Clumps
As a preliminary put a stout stake into the middle of the prepared ground. Turn out about a dozen plants, with the soil intact, from the pots. Remove the drainage crocks and plant the seedlings in a circle round the stake. At the same time, push in tall branched pea-sticks on the inner side of the plant circle, at intervals, and tie them with raffia to the centre stake. This ensures firmness, and later makes an excellent show stand for the dainty blooms.
Failing pea-sticks, wire-netting can be formed into a circular stand, but it is stiffer and less pleasing in appearance. Soon after planting, put in a few small feathery twigs to lead up to the pea-sticks. The young tendrils should curl naturally round these; if not, they can be gently trained at first.
A ring of lime and soot round each cluster of plants keeps off slugs, and a judicious use of black cotton on the twigs above the seedlings scares the birds.
Young Spruce trees are utilized as supports for the Sweet Peas with great decorative effect. Their trunks are cut off to a height of about 10 ft., and the trees used are 4-5 in. in diameter at the bottom. The side branches are cut back to within 1 ft. of the stem, and all brushwood trimmed from the remaining portions.
Ail the branches are cut away completely from the bottom 2 ft., to allow the trunk to be set firmly, 2 ft. deep, in soil. This lower portion is charred to prevent rotting. Such supports last for some years, and are worth the trouble of preparation because of their decorative quality.
An effective display is made if each clump of Sweet Peas is planted with shadings of one colour tone. Thus, in one clump might be planted the peach-pink “Debutante” and salmon-orange “Smiles,” with the slightly pinker “Mrs. A. Searles,” or alternatively, with the deeper tones of “Orange Flame.” Another clump could consist of the deep violet blue of “Fortune,” the bronzy blue of “Flag Lieutenant,” the mid-blue of “Amethyst,” and the paler tone of “Blue Belle.”
A study of the trade catalogues will suggest other colour combinations in the shades favoured by the individual grower.
Deep digging and adequate feeding of the soil are the essentials for success.
Cultivation begins in October or at the latest before Christmas. Open out a trench 3 ft. wide and 2 ft. deep, preferably running North and South. Throw the top foot of soil on one side of the trench, the second toot on the other side.
Scatter into the trench 4 oz. of crushed bone, or bonemeal, to each yard, and fork it in.
Next put in a layer, 3-4 in. deep, of stable manure if the soil is heavy, or cow or pig manure if it is light. Then throw back and mix with the manure the top spit of soil from the one side of the trench.
Spread a second layer of manure and mix with it the soil of the bottom spit from the other side of the trench. Leave a really rough surface so that rain, frost and air can act on the soil. Dress the trench with lime and leave it to weather for the remainder of the winter. In the spring the top soil will have broken down to a fine texture.