how to cordon train your sweet peas
My friend Nipper Keely taught me how to cordon train my sweet peas to grow magnificent plants. Nipper’s stems of trained sweet peas are at least eighteen inches long, with five or six flowers on each stem and the flowers are huge. My sweet peas are pretty, but my stems reach a maximum of a foot – and only that if I’m lucky – with only three or four small flowers at the top of each.
One March, he came to see me to ask if I had any spare sweet pea plants. The mice got the lot in his greenhouse, including the extra seed he’d kept from last summer, and so he was very behind. I gave him twenty plants which we both planted at the same time, towards the end of March, so this year he started off with many of the same varieties, from the same crop of plants sown in the autumn by me. We then continued to do our different systems as we’ve done every year:
Sarah's sweet pea growing method
I put mine on the long sweet pea walk. I place my plants about six inches apart, with a trench of manure at their roots, then let them get on with it. Every couple of weeks, I tie the new growth in, but that’s it until I start picking. I pick away from the end of May until the end of July, dead-heading as I cut. There were lots and lots of flowers – almost too many – and the average stem length was eight inches.
Nipper's sweet pea training method
Nipper grows many fewer plants and puts much more work into the ones he grows. He usually plants them out in February, selecting the strongest looking stem and pinching the rest back to ground level. Up the one stem goes, attached at eighteen inch intervals to one sturdy cane.
Like with tomatoes, whenever side branches form between the main stem and leaves, he pinches them out, encouraging all the energy to thicken the main trunk. When the stem reaches the top of the support, he unties it, stretches it over the ground to three canes along and then turns the tip and attaches it there. All those little twiddly bits - by which the peas climb - are removed. They also take energy from the flowers. He gives the ground a good manuring in the autumn and feeds his plants with blood fish and bone.
From Nipper’s sweet peas he may produce between five and ten bunches a week and spends a couple of hours a week on his peas from February to July. I grow maybe twice the number of plants, producing three or four times the quantity of flowers, on only a few hours – apart from picking – in the whole season.
Which would you rather?
I’ve definitely changed my views and would prefer magnificence over abundance and so will have to find more time. Next year, I’m going the Nipper way.