A sow-called spring

Pumpkin, seed mascot, put in a good morning with Dianne, Mary and ArviaI haven’t spotted any crocus, snowdrops or early daffs blooming yet, and I know the calendar says spring is still a whole month away, but in the greenhouse the growing season officially kicked off yesterday. We call spring as soon as the garden volunteers start coming back to work and when we sow sweet peas. And didn’t it feel like spring too, right on (our) schedule… Outside the temps were in the balmy 40s and the birds were singing. Inside, it was in the sweater-shedding low 70s. Heaven. (Today is a different story but no less spring-like if you consider the mud.)

Sweet peas need a long cool period with temps in the 50s to bloom well so we start them in the coolest section of the greenhouse, two seeds to a pot, always the week of the President’s Day holiday. Even though we don’t nick or soak the seeds they all* germinate within a couple of weeks. After they’ve grown three sets of leaves we pinch them to encourage branching and then plant them outside the last week in April. We’ve never tried sowing them outdoors because our springs are so flukey and those precious seeds are critter magnets. But if we were daredevils, we’d cross our fingers and follow the general rule of direct sowing them six weeks before the last frost date. (St. Patrick’s Day is traditional in zones warmer than ours.)

a bench-full of sweet peas under mouse protectionThis year I was very restrained with our sweet pea seed order because we decided to move them off the Cutting Garden fence to give that soil a break. — They really should be rotated like a vegetable crop. This year we’ll be trying them on tuteurs in the North and Rose Gardens as well as on teepees inside the Cutting Garden. So rather than my usual rainbow assortment of 12-15 varieties, I chose only FIVE super sweet and extra fragrant varieties: Enchante, Spanish Dancer, and Erewhon from Burpee for the Rose and North Gardens; and Cupani’s Original and Black Knight from Select for the Cutting Garden. Now I realize that I would have been very disappointed with the lack of abundance if Gail hadn’t also placed an order from Plants of Distinction adding North Shore, Duchy of Cambridge, Prince of Orange, and Twilight to the mix. Phew! We were able to fill an entire greenhouse bench like we usually do after all.

Do you grow sweet peas? When do you start them? Have you ever tried direct sowing?

*Our sweet pea germination rates are usually close to 100% — with the exception of some of the red and orange varieties — if they’re not eaten by mice.