I know this winter I've talked a lot about planning the vegetable garden and not much about what I'm doing with flowers, but be assured they aren't being neglected.
Always at the top of my list are sweet peas or Lathyrus odoratus. I love these little colorful and fragrant flowers from the legume family.
These annual flowering vines are closely related to our edible garden peas, and no garden should be without several varieties.
Year ago, before I had a fence to grow them on, I would run twine on just about everything vertical. In the front or side of the house, I would start with a stake in the ground from which I would fan out lengths of string up to the roof. My husband would help by standing on the ladder and stapling the ends of the string to the soffits. At the base of the fan, I would plant several varieties of sweet peas. I also planted morning glories this way, and even though they had larger flowers, the sweet peas were still my favorite.
When my son and his friends stopped using the free standing basketball hoop my husband installed in the backyard, the net and backboard came down and the post that remained was used to support a tepee of sweet peas. Once again, I ran lengths of twine from the ground to the top of the post and planted two or three seeds at the base of each piece of string. As the plants grew, they wrapped their tendrils around the string and each other forming a thick, vertical mat of flowers in the shape of a pyramid.
When they bloom in early spring, I pick several bouquets and fill everything I can find, including small vases, teacups, cream pitchers and even small bowls. I place them on every available table both inside and out. There are always enough blossoms that when those flowers fade, I can replace them with more flowers from the vines.
Sweet peas can be planted here about a month before our last average frost date, or sometime in mid-April. They are cool weather plants and don't mind a few light frosts.
Before planting the seeds, however, they need to be nicked (also called scarification) for easier germination. Sweet pea seeds are encased in hard outer shells that take a long time to be penetrated by moisture. By nicking the shell with either nail clippers or a knife or by filing it with a rasp, moisture gets to the seed easier enabling it to germinate a lot quicker.
Be sure to only cut into or nick the seed coating. If it is too time consuming to scarify each and every seed you plan to plant, you can soak them overnight to soften the shells before planting. It won't work as fast, but it is still a bit of a head start.
Sweet peas like sunlight and should be planted where the soil is amended with compost and has good drainage. They also should be watered regularly. They don't like extreme heat, so when mid-summer gets into full swing, the sweet peas will likely stop producing flowers and the vines will begin to die. When this happens, simply replace the sweet peas with another vining annual, such as cardinal flower, hyacinth beans or black-eyed susan vine.
Cutting the blossoms for using indoors or deadheading spent flowers from the vines will encourage the plants to make more flowers for as long as the vines can keep up. Regular feeding with a balance fertilizer will encourage longer stems on the flowers.
Sweet peas are probably my favorite late spring, early summer flower with its velvety flowers that are available in a myriad of colors. One of my favorite sources for sweet pea seeds is Renee's Garden seeds. Local garden centers generally have displays of Renee's Garden seeds and this is how I like to buy them, but if you can't get them locally, they can be found online at www.reneesgarden.com.