Most of the time I think that something growing in the garden that you can’t eat is a waste of space, so it’s rather ironic that the first seeds I planted weren’t for vegetables or herbs but flowers: sweet peas. I love sweet peas, the beautiful colours but most of all their amazing scent. For me a vase of sweet peas is the epitome of summer. It takes me back to my childhood, walking into the big white marquee of the flower and produce show. Walking around the displays of perfectly proportioned runner beans, Victoria sponges, and the children’s section where I invariably failed to get a prize for moss gardens, although I recall a highly commended for a plate of coconut ice, or maybe that’s just wishful thinking and nostalgia. But above all there were the sweet peas, their heady aroma filling the whole marquee. So there was no doubt in my mind the first thing I was going to plant in my new garden, lots and lots of sweet peas.
The varieties I chose were Blackberry and Cathy both from Unwins. Blackberry is, as the name would suggest a deep purply red, while Cathy was nearly white with just the faintest hint of cream. They came from the Extra Fragrant Collection, why bother with pale imitations, I wanted the full weight of that wonderful summertime scent.
But in my enthusiasm and impatience I planted them way before the garden itself was ready for me to put anything in it, in February. The sweet peas went all long and straggly and I had to try again, in April. They germinated well enough in little Jiffy 7 coir pellets but when I planted them out, in what was the driest spring in a century they just sat there doing very little. I spent so much time watering and tying them in that my daughter said I spent more time looking after my plants than her, and she might have had a point. But by June they were clambering like crazy and blooming in profusion. I’ve had a vase of fresh sweet peas on my kitchen table every day for over a month now. And the smell? Pure nostalgia.