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Sweet peas arrived in Britain via a Sicilian monk who sent seeds to a Middlesex schoolmaster. This gave rise to countless other forms.

The biggest relatively recent development came at the turn of the last century when unusually large, frilly flowers suddenly appeared in several parts of the country. The seed was saved and sold as new varieties.

‘Countess Spencer’, found in the garden of Earl Spencer at Althorp, Northamptonshire, was the best and gave rise to the variably scented Spencer type which now has a huge range of varieties, with new ones being launched each year.

Recommended Varieties When Growing Sweet Pea

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Site and Soil Preferences

Sweet peas are hungry plants and love rich soil with plenty of added humus, and as much sun as they can get.

Seed Sowing

Plants are traditionally sown in pots in the autumn as this produces sturdy specimens that will be ready for planting out early next spring. They are quite hardy and can be safely grown in a cold frame but will require occasional extra protection during periods of extreme cold and hard frosts. Or, in spring, sow seeds directly where you want them to grow.

To get a high germination rate, pre-germinate the seed on a sheet of damp kitchen paper. After a few days, the viable seeds will swell with water and a tiny root will appear. They can then be sown in pots of multipurpose compost. The resulting seedlings should have their growing tips pinched out when they have produced two pairs of leaves to encourage side shoots. This is important as the original shoot will often fail to flower.

Step-by-Step Growing Sweet Pea Guide

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Fork in a layer of moisture-retaining organic matter to improve the soil just before planting.