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Jane’s Journal

How to grow sweet peas from seed

growing sweet peas from seed

Sweet peas have always been a plant that grows well here - they love the cool damp summers, the long light days of June - and reward me with bucket upon bucket of blooms. When I had a flower farm and grew organic cut flowers commercially I used to grow thousands of stems for weddings.

If you are growing them yourself, this is the perfect time to sow sweet peas - they have time to grow great healthy roots but don't hang around getting root bound. They are pretty hardy - and though you shouldn't plant them out into the garden until the frosts are pretty much finished, they don't need a heated greenhouse. If you have somewhere sheltered to keep them, tucked by a wall, in a cold frame you can germinate them on the house and then move them outside.

I love pottering around in the greenhouse it this time, sowing sweet pea seeds and looking forward to a Summer full of scented cut flowers. It stops me from sowing other seeds for which it is far too early!

I have recorded a YouTube video showing exactly how I sow sweet peas

My first nature table


My first memories of a nature table are from Primary two, St Margaret’s School for Girls in Newington in Edinburgh. It was the day before an end of year parents’ evening, a sunny June day.

Miss Black, young hapless Miss Black in her first teaching job, wanted to make an impression. She led us across the playing field, a little line of dark green pinafores, to collect twigs and cones and flowers for our classroom nature table.

She led us right across the playing field to where trees fringed a small stream. We each had a jam jar which we dilligently stuffed with greenery.

Then Miss Black spotted an amazing plant, a plant that would surely ensure our nature table stood out from the rest, a towering umbellifer. She went to pick it, she battled back up the slope to us clutching it aloft. Giant hogweed.

By the time we got back to school Miss Black was beginning to blister, we were greeted by shrieks from other staff. The hogweed was ostentatiously bundled into a binbag, Miss Black was bundled away, we got to join Mrs Munro and the infants for story time.

The 2B nature table never got finished - the jars remained unlabelled, the leaves unpressed. Miss Black appeared at school next day her hands bandaged up, her face splotched and burning.

That evening parents mulled over whether she was a suitable influence. They gathered and gasped at the danger we had narrowly escaped.

I remember believing that the plant had eaten her fingers.

Nature tables acquired a dangerous glamour.

Making a jam jar 'terrarium' of crocus

making a jam jar terrarium

At the beginning of Spring, garden centres and florists fill up with little pots of bulbs - all full of promise and ready to do their thing.

I like to pot these up and have them around the house. My favourites are the tiny bulbs - like crocus and grape hyacinths - which can be grouped together on windowsills or tables - a moment of joy as you pass. They can then be planted out in the garden as soon as they have finished flowering indoors.

This little 'terrarium inspired' arrangement is made in a large jam jar, which I think used to have gherkins in it. The important thing is that you can get your hand into it so that it is easy to position your bulbs. If you don't have a suitable jam jar a plain glass vase or storage jar works well too.

You need

  • large jar
  • small pots of bulbs
  • moss (do not pick from the wild, if you don't have any in your garden use more grit instead)
  • horticultural grit/fine gravel
  • compost
  • spoon

1. carefully put moss in the base of the jar - I use moss peeled from the edge of our lawn.

making a terrarium of crocus

2. Add in a layer of grit - this does two things. It holds down the moss and it creates a reservoir which will hold water away from the base of the bulbs so they don't drown if you accidentally overwater.

3. Carefully take the bulbs out of their pots and put nestled into the gravel. Depending on the size of your pot you may need to carefully tease the bulbs apart so you can fit them in. Add in as many bulbs as you can and use the spoon to add compost into the gaps.

Make your own terrarium of crocus

4. Use the spoon to slide more moss down the side of the jar to hide the bulb roots. If you don't have moss trickle grit down.

Make your own terrarium display of crocus

5. Water very gently. You want there to be water at the bottom so that the roots can reach it, but you don't want the bulbs to be sitting in water. The moist moss will help regulate this.

Grow your own spring bulb terrarium