Sweet Peas in Polish Garden

Spring weather is like a child's face, changing many times a day.

- old Chinese proverb

If you haven't already planted your sweet peas (Polish groszek pachnacy), it is the time to do it now. I love the neon colors of these intensely fragrant flowers, but they also come in many pastel shades. The Sweet Pea or Lathyrus odoratus is a highly scented annual of the Leguminosae family. An individual bloom consists of three or four flowers (or florets) on a stem.

Almost all seed companies have some sweet peas from which to choose. Many heirlooms, heat resistant and cutting sweet peas are found in the Renee's Garden seed line. In fact the many of the huge variety of types can usually be found in several good seed companies. Just keep in mind these wonderfully sweet posies need a cool time in which to bloom. They can be planted in our area any time from late March to the end of April. Good mulch, frequent watering and soil rich with compost will help insure bloom for a much longer time.

In cool climates like New England, northern California and northern European countries these flowers bloom all summer. In our area they often die out when it gets very hot in July and August, but a good soil and adequate watering, as well as dead heading will lengthen their bloom time. If you manage to get them through the summer they will continue to bloom in fall as long as they are deadheaded, watered and fed. I love they bright colors and sweet fragrance and try to keep them blooming in my garden as long as possible.

They were one of the first bouquets I was given on our first trip to Poland in 1990. Imagine my surprise and delight when my cousins met us at the airport with sweet pea bouquets in mid summer. On our second trip, Ted and I biked around the forest area of Bialowieza. Here we saw beautiful, quaint little cottages built of rustic wood where the gardens were an absolute riot of colors. The cool summer in this northern region allowed flowers that bloom only in the spring here in the Delaware Valley to blossom all summer there.

Most noticeable to me were the sweet pea vines on fences, trellises and porch railings. The colors were almost neon and the fragrances sweet and spicy. They were just everywhere along with poppies, hollyhocks, roses and also a great variety annual and perennial plants.

I have always tried to grow garden peas for eating and sweet peas for cutting flowers. Some years I don't get them in the ground early enough, but this year I already have some sweet pea seeds planted in the cold frame and other packs ready to go in the ground this weekend, weather permitting. Depending how long the snow that is now falling remains, this project might be delayed a few days. Although it is said by some to soak the seeds before planting, others say this stresses the seed, especially if left in water too long. Just plant and be sure the soil is kept moist and they will sprout well.

Next is good watering and food. I now use osmocote on most of my plants for continuous feeding (organic matter is also of utmost importance with sweet peas). This is an easy to apply, time release granular fertilizer that is applied in small amounts to the top of the soil. Being a time-release fertilizer, it allows food to be released each time the plant is watered. Water often-in warm weather and mulch to keep roots cool. Pick often to keep blooms from going to seed, as well as to enjoy as a fragrant cut flower.

Try to find old fashion seeds for the best fragrance. Seeds named Cupani are said to be one of the oldest varieties. Father Francis Cupani, an Italian monk in the 1600s was a botanist who discovered them and first collected the seeds. They soon became a favorite with the royalty. To this day sweet peas are very popular as a cut flower in Europe. There are many sweet pea seeds available in England and people grow them for entry in the famous flower shows. There is a sweet pea society (http://www.sweetpeas.org.uk/aboutthesociety.htm) with a lot of information on varieties and growing sweet peas if gardeners want to read on about theses fascinating plants.

Folklore suggests to plant sweet peas before sunrise on St. Patrick's Day, but any time soon will do. Just be sure to do it soon or the warm weather will zap the plants before they get a chance to bloom.

written by Lorraine Grochowski Kiefer, contact the author by e-mail
Lorraine is a host of Triple Oaks Nursery & Herb Garden .
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