making a sweet pea castle

hazel poles for sweet peas, cottage garden, gardening blog

hard at work coppicing hazels

We’ve finally dug up the remains of the massive pampas grass that dominated the centre of the garden when we moved here. Well, Steve has anyway. And it looked back-breaking from where I was standing.

This is the only section of garden that gets sun all day. So now the pampas has gone our plan is to create an island border and fill it with the sun-loving perennials that we struggle to find space for elsewhere.

 

It’s going to take a bit of work though. Especially since the list of plants we want to include gets longer by the day. For the time being, we’ve turned the pampas patch into a sweet pea castle for our three-year-old.

sweet pea castle, cottage garden, gardening blog

trying the castle for size

Our hedge is full of hazels that grow like mad and provide us with an endless supply of plant supports. Last weekend Steve coppiced a few and I strung them into a frame for the sweet peas to scramble up. It’s like a traditional sweet pea wigwam, except we left a hole at the front for a door and didn’t gather the poles at the top.

It’s fairly robust, but if I did it again I would think a bit more carefully about my stringing technique. I should have alternated, doing a row at the bottom then one at the top, instead of just working my way up. By the time I got to the top, I decided the poles should taper in a bit, but as I tightened the string some of the lower layers slackened off. That’s the problem with making it up as you go along.

Steve did praise the fact that I worked clockwise then anticlockwise. Apparently this makes it stronger. I just nodded knowingly when he told me, and didn’t say I’d only done it that way because I was too lazy to cut the string after each level.

sweet peas

nibbled by a rabbit…

I’d been planning to use the Easton Walled Garden heirloom sweet peas that we sowed in November to grow up the castle. I thought the blue, pink and white of the Lord Nelson, Miss Willmott and Dorothy Eckford varieties would work well as a centrepiece for the garden through the summer. As well as providing a pretty, scented den for our girl and her playmates of course.

However, semi disaster struck a couple of weeks ago when a passing wild rabbit decided he was rather partial to sweet pea shoots. The plants seem to be recovering, so I’ve still used them. But I interspersed them with a couple more old-fashioned varieties that we sowed later (Nelly Viner and Lady Grisel Hamilton).

Last year our sweet peas grew up and over their poles. I don’t know if the rabbit-nibbled ones will grow anywhere near as tall. I suppose we can always fill any gaps with a few runner beans.

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green shoots

In the end, I decided to put our sweet peas in the porch to germinate. Mainly to avoid them being eaten by mice. They are doing OK.

gardening blog sweet pea seedlings

Lord Nelson, one month after sowing

Lord Nelson was the first to sprout and is already a bit leggy – I pinched out the tops on Christmas Eve in an attempt to slow him down a bit.

Dorothy Eckford and Miss Wilmott were a bit slower to get going, and fewer of them have germinated so far.

gardening blog sweet pea seedlings

Dorothy Eckford (left) is a couple of weeks behind Lord Nelson, despite growing in exactly the same conditions

I have another packet of each of these varieties that I was planning to plant in the spring. But I suspect I will end up sowing them all with M on new year’s day, and I may have to order some more as well.

I’ve no idea where I’ll put them though, the greenhouse is bursting at the seams already. We are overwintering a few young and tender plants in there. Plus I got a bit carried away trying winter sowings of some hardy and half-hardy annuals I’m growing for the first time, like cleome, ammi majus and didiscus blue lace.

gardening blog didiscus  seedling

didiscus seedling – I got a bit carried away with winter sowings

Maybe I should add one of these to my Christmas list next year… if only.

In my dreams... from the Victorian Greenhouse Co

In my dreams… from the Victorian Greenhouse Co

sweet peas – a winter sowing

sweet pea tubes gardening blogI wasn’t going to bother with a winter sowing of sweet peas. Last year most of my first batch were gobbled by mice and I’m not convinced the ones that made it did better than those sowed in the spring.

But as the days get colder and darker, it lifts the spirits to plan for next summer. On Sunday, M and I tore open three of the six packets of seed I ordered from Easton Walled Gardens and made a start.

Sweet peas love to grow nice long roots, so we’ve been saving loo rolls and kitchen rolls for them. The added bonus is that the cardboard should just disintegrate when we plant them out, meaning we won’t need to disturb them too much.

When it came to filling the tubes with compost, M struggled with their open-ends. So I took the frugal option for my seeds and let her have some biodegradable fibre pots.sweet peas gardening blog

Each packet had at least one seed more than the 15 we were expecting, perhaps they add extra for the inevitable rodent robbers. It was just as well since M dropped hers and a few rolled under the shed floor. I suspect there is a mouse or three living down there, so I hope it won’t trigger them to go sweet pea hunting.

sweet pea tray gardening blog

M is having a pink phase, so she claimed Miss Wilmott for the biodegradable pots. I sowed Dorothy Eckford and Lord Nelson in loo rolls, which in hindsight seems a little disrespectful.

When we were done, we gave them a drink and left them in the cold greenhouse to germinate. I suppose I could have set a mouse trap next to them, but I didn’t have the heart to. We can always grow more in the spring.

This Q&A from Easton Walled Gardens has some good sweet pea growing advice. I didn’t come across it until after we sowed ours, but if they haven’t been devoured by mice yet, I’ll move them to the porch which is just as cold but hopefully a little more mouse-proof than the greenhouse.