21 June 2021

Flower Focus: Sweet Peas

Now that the wonderfully scented sweet pea season is over, we thought we’d take a closer look at this delicate, fragrant flower and what we learned growing it.

Of all the flowers we’ve grown so far, these were definitely the most high maintenance. Growing sweet peas as a cut flower means you need a certain stem length for them to be usable and there are so many methods for growing them and lots of arguments for doing it one way or the other. In short, harvesting and maintaining sweet peas is a tricky business!

At the peak of their season, the tallest vines stood at an impressive height of about 9ft, reaching the top of the polytunnel. This means it did get hard to cut them towards the end of the season. Their upkeep is also quite time consuming – every time you cut the side shoots, it generates more, which have to be tied up and once the vines start producing flowers, it’s a job keeping up with them! Once each side shoot is cut, every sweet pea produced will be shorter than the one before, so by the end of the season, these were too short for us to use. We’ve recently learned that you can cut off all the side shoots, to encourage longer stems on each main vine, so we may try this approach next year to encourage a usable stem length for a longer period. It’s no secret that sweet peas don’t have a particularly long vase life once cut, so arguably their complicated and time consuming upkeep versus their vase life may make you consider whether they’re worth it, but the scent of these flowers tips the scale for us. We’re not surprised they’re a seasonal favourite across the world.

We’re always transparent about the vase life of our field flowers, so customers know what to expect. So although sweet peas may only last 4 or 5 days in a vase, for so many, the scent of them is so nostalgic and so special – the smell of their childhood garden, their nan’s favourite flower –  that this more than makes up for it. In an earlier post, we talked about beauty vs vase life and how flowers are natural, ephemeral things (we don’t use pesticides and chemicals on our homegrown flowers) and the most beautiful, seasonal flowers often come with a trade off of a slightly shorter vase life. This is a trade off we’re willing to take, but we need to make sure our customers know this too so we can manage expectations, especially with flowers like sweet peas, where this trade off is very apparent.

We chose early flowering varieties, which we over-wintered, sowing them in the autumn and then planting them in the polytunnel. They required a watchful eye as mice absolutely love sweet pea seeds. All the seeds germinated on our blue sweet pea but only about half of the pink variety germinated, yet we found we had more flowers on the pink variety, so in the end it evened out. We may try growing some outside later in the season next year, to compare and contrast – the polytunnel is quite a controlled environment, so we’d be interested to see whether growing outside leads to hardier plants, with a longer vase life. We’ll also try some different colours and varieties next year to see how these compare too. We may also offer them on the vine, in all their swirly, tendriled glory.

After all the time and attention we gave to our sweet peas, we have to say it felt sad to pull up the beds when the time came but they just weren’t lasting in transit towards the end of the season and we weren’t comfortable sending them out to customers – they may have a shorter vase life than some, but we still want them to look great when they’re unboxed. In the end, the beds needed to make way for other seedlings needing to go in. In their place went some celosia, which we expect to see flowering in August/early September.

Next year we won’t grow so much of the same variety. When we first started the farm, our plan for our homegrown flowers was to use them throughout the week in our Petalon bouquets. In reality, it quickly became apparent that ensuring we had the right quantities to do that week after week, with any variety, was going to be almost impossible. Now we’re offering these as Field Flowers – Cornish-grown flowers that you can buy separately – it works well to have a mixture of different colours and varieties to keep things interesting, which is what we’ll focus on next year. We plan to have one bed instead of two next time, with one side of cool colours and one side a variety of warm colours.

There has been a lot to learn with this wonderful flower and now we’ve got one season under our belt, we’re excited to try it again next year.

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