Sweet pea enthusiasts sow the seed in early winter or early spring, in root trainers or cardboard tubes that can accommodate their long roots, before planting them out. This way they can be sure of choosing the precise varieties they want, such as highly perfumed crimson and purple Matucana, sumptuous Scarlet or the coveted grandiflora, lavender Flora Norton.
© MMG/Marianne Majerus
The great thing about growing sweet peas though — aside from the fact that you can pick the flowers for weeks on end — is that every single variety is gorgeous; there are no duds. A jug of simple sweet peas in a jumble of colours is about the most exquisite of summer bouquets, deliciously fragrant.
All you have to do to achieve this, for every day through summer, is to run out to the garden centre this weekend and buy a six-pack of any mixed bunch you happen to see, then plant them. Several weeks on, the colours and the perfume are guaranteed to knock you sideways.
You will, however, need to give them the support they deserve. Provide sweet peas with any kind of climbing frame and they will clamber tenaciously, their tendrils twirling around whatever they come across.
The key is to give them an adequate framework: anything less than two metres high and the topmost stems will be flailing around with nowhere to go, vulnerable to the next passing summer gale.
A panel of sturdy trellis or wire mesh, sweet peas planted along its base during early spring, will give you a fabulous flowery screen come summer; an arch with sweet peas on either side will form a bower of blooms. Both will make for easy pickings, too.
The cottage-garden method of growing sweet peas on a teepee, however, suits any kind of plot and adds a stunning vertical feature to a flat bed or border. Most shop-bought teepees, though attractive, aren't tall enough; the best option is to make your own from six bamboo poles tied at the top, or better yet, hazel poles that will give your plot country-garden status.
No need to find your nearest woodland: you can find rustic poles at larger garden centres and nurseries. To give the sweet peas good purchase, weave heavy-duty string in and around the poles at intervals to form wide bands of webbing.
Plant each group of baby plants — don't separate them out — at the base of each pole, or about 30cm apart, and water in well. At this stage you need to protect them from rampaging slugs or snails, encircling them with sharp-edged physical barriers such as grit or shells, upended in the soil; I find these more effective than slug pellets. When the plants are about 15cm tall, pinch out or snip off the growing tip to encourage plants to bush out.
Water regularly, using the can's spout to deliver water right to the roots, and feed with a diluted tomato fertiliser once flowers start to form, once a week. A stash of plastic-coated sweet pea rings to clip around wayward stems will make sure everything keeps going skywards, but most important of all is to keep cutting, so the flowers keep on coming. Use flower snips or small scissors, and work fast: you'll find masses of perfumed blooms to keep your home in cut flowers right through summer.
If you don't have ground space, though, you can grow sweet peas in troughs and half-barrels that are wide enough to hold a teepee. However the good news is that you can buy — or sow from seed — new dwarf sweet peas such as Snoopea. They need no support and form compact, bushy plants that grow to a mere 30cm, making them prime candidates for this summer's most ravishing window boxes.