Place your plants in a warm place – and avoid the frost

Perennial sweet pea.

Perennial sweet pea.

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One week there are a few days of relatively mild weather that raises expectation and draws us to the garden, next we have wind-chill and frost.

It’s the typical February-March divide, and not the time to be taking too many liberties or getting ahead of ourselves with tender plant subjects.

Sweet pea seedlings.

Sweet pea seedlings.

Tempting though the young plug plants lined out at your favourite local nursery are, heed the warning that they are far from frost-hardy and cannot be safely planted outside yet. Buy by all means while there’s a good range to choose from but only if there’s a well-illuminated, frost-free place they can be housed in for a few weeks.

I find that a moderately warm conservatory fits the bill nicely, acting as a halfway house until the unheated greenhouse beckons.

The plant catalogues, newspapers and gardening magazines are full of tempting plug plant offers right now. Read the small print and you generally find a rough guide to delivery time, April-May being a popular estimate.

If you have no heated facility this can be a blessing, the young plants arriving when frost is still possible but the threat is rapidly diminishing.

But not all the young plants I saw on display last week needed mollycoddling. There was a good range of sweet peas growing in small modular trays, the seedlings circa five centimetres tall. With an average 30 potential plants to each batch, at an asking price of just under £5, some might view this as expensive when a packet of Dobies Show-bench Mixed costs £2.49 for 25 seeds.

However, sometimes circumstances dictate that you need to take what is available when you’re after specific plants.

Gardeners who grow for show like to have their sweet peas germinated, up and running long before January arrives. This leads to sturdy, established plants capable of producing strong blooms for the early exhibitions.

So those of us who forgot to order or failed to sow sweet peas earlier are at a disadvantage. Seeds sown now that March has arrived will flower before summer’s through but there’s a fair bit of catching up to do.

We already have plantings of perpetual old fashioned sweet peas in the garden that will be breaking surface soon, but when faced with packs of seedlings for floral arrangement, garden display and exhibition last week, it was so difficult to resist. Then I remembered the glossy catalogue I’d thumbed through recently. It had offered a sweet pea collection of 24 seedlings for £22.50 plus postage. The Exhibition pack (£4.99) at Heighley Gate suddenly looked reasonable and now sits on the greenhouse potting bench awaiting transfer of seedlings to individual pots!