Of late years the greatly improved varieties and beautiful colors of the sweet peas have brought them up to be one of our most important spring flowers. And what can be more truly springlike? These you cannot have any day in the year, as we now have many of our other flowers.
For several years we struggled with sweet peas, getting perhaps a few scattering flowers in December. So we came to the conclusion that peas could not be flowered profusely till March and April. Then again we blamed too rich and deep a soil as the fault. And then. noticing that the original growth or vine from the seed did give a few flowers, but was soon overwhelmed by growths from the base of the plant and lateral growths, we tried pinching off the lateral growth, but the result was still anytning but a successs. Finally we discovered we had been attempting something that could not be done. And not until we procured the Zvolanek strain of seed did it appear that our trouble was the attempt to flower in the dark of winter such beautiful varieties as Blanche Ferry, Emily Henderson and other varieties so grand in June and July. They slumbered till the bright suns of March and April.
Exterior of a Boston Florist's Store.
Here is what the Zvolanek type will do. Sown where they were to flower about August 18, they were in bloom by Thanksgiving and by December 10 we were picking a full crop. We have noticed that sweet peas are slow to open their blossoms without sunlight. They make little progress in dark, cloudy weather. It does not make much difference whether they are grown in five inches of soil on a raised bench or five or six inches on a low bed. The latter is the most convenient for picking. Give them your lightest house. The rows of plants, whether running across the beds or lengthwise, should be north and south, which gives all parts of the vinos equal rays of the sun. When once started into vigorous growth they want an abundance of water.
For outside they should be the very first thing sown in the spring, the moment the ground is dry enough to plow or spade; or, better still, it can be dug up rough in the fall, and will need no digging in the spring. Draw trenches three or four inches broad and the same in depth, three feet apart, sow thinly and cover with an inch of soil. If you think it's going to be dry pour some water on top of the seed before you cover in with earth; it will hasten the growth. At the first hoeing you can let the earth be drawn in a little higher around the stems, but if the trench is somewhat below the level all the better for future waterings.
The soil for peas out of doors should be deep and rich. There is nothing equal to brush to support them, which should always be placed with a line of it on each side, when the growth is only two or three inches high, not waiting till the peas are up a foot and have fallen over to one side. We don't suffer with drought usually up to flowering time, but a short time before you begin to pick you should spread two or three inches of stable litter entirely over the ground between the rows. It will help keep the ground moist and be of the greatest benefit when you water. Unless you get a rainy season you must water. Give the ground not only close to the plants but all the surface a thorough soaking twice a week if you want your crop to last. Another important thing to observe is to pick all the flowers. If they escape you they will quickly go to seed and then your plant gets exhausted.
Some growers sow in October, and by this means I have seen flowers picked ten days earlier than those sown on the same ground in April. You must judge for yourself the best week to sow, according to the weather. You don't want them to make any growth above the ground, just sprouting near the surface is enough, but sow four inches deep. For this purpose choose a rather high part of your ground where surface water will not lie. Ten days is of great importance in the sweet pea market in spring.
There are times when you might find yourself with an empty bench in February. If so, sweet peas of any of the standard varieties could be sown. The bright weather of March and April would induce flowers, and in the month of May they sell well, and immense quantities can be picked before the outside crop arrives. Sweet peas command a good price at this season and sell in quantity. The best colors are white and pink.
Within a few years the varieties of sweet peas have become very numerous, and many of them of great beauty. The late Mr. Eckford was largely instrumental in this. He first became an enthusiast on the verbena and later turned his attention to sweet peas. Mr. Eckford probably never heard of the writer, but when I was 10 years old I knew him, when he first went to be head gardener to Dr. Martin, of Purbrook, Hants, England. Dr. Martin was one of the pioneers of dentistry, who charged $10 to look in your mouth, $10 more to pull a tooth, and $50 more for a new one. But as he spent his leisure time and money in gardening his extravagant charges were most commendable.
Some of the finest sweet peas are as follows: Mrs. J. Chamberlain, white striped rose; Lovely, beautiful pink; America, white striped red; Stanley, deep maroon; Ramona, pale pink; Maid of Honor, white tipped lilac; Golden Gleam, primrose yellow; Mars, bright crimson; Countess of Radnor Improved, fine lavender; Royal Rose, very fine rose; Lady Penzance, orange tinted carmine; Blanche Ferry, extra, white and pink; Blanche Burpee, best white; Catherine Tracy, daybreak pink; Little Dorrit, fine pink; Aurora, striped orange and white; Her Majesty, rose and carmine; Gray Friar, white clouded with lilac; Emily Henderson, a standard white; King of the Blues, a handsome purplish blue.