Monday, 18 June 2018

British Flowers Week 2018: Sweet peas

British Flowers Week starts today, so I thought I'd try to post every day this week. Starting off with a small gardening victory.

I met up with Sara from My Flower Patch and her husband when they came to London for a few days back in March. It was snowing and cold so we found a nice tapas restaurant in Bloomsbury and stayed there in the warm all afternoon. She told me about the planning and organising ahead of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show - Sara is a member of Flowers From The Farm and they had their first stand at the show in May. I didn't envy her - it sounded like so much hard work. It paid off in the end as they won a gold medal!

When Sara asked me what I was growing this year, I told her I'd planned to sow sweet peas but I had left it too late. She told me a tip (which I think Gill Hodgson, who founded Flowers from the Farm, had passed on to her) which was to sow them in the small pots you get from a takeaway, on damp kitchen paper or cotton wool pads, and keep them indoors until they germinate. She said if I was lucky I would have flowers in September!

So the week after that, I washed all the pots after a Friday night thali from the local Sri Lankan grocery, I lay folded strips of kitchen paper inside each one, added a few drops of water so they were damp, and spaced out a few sweet pea seeds inside every pot. Then put the lids on and placed them on a window sill above a radiator. I checked them each day, and if they were drying up I added a few more drops of water. It was kind of like growing cress on blotting paper at school, except these were covered. And I never got excited about eating cress, whereas I do get excited about cutting sweet peas for a vase.

After a week, most of the seeds had germinated. I planted them in small, tall pots.

Fast forward three months and I have my first sweet peas flowering! The stems are a bit stumpy; unlike the amazing long stems I've grown before from winter sowings.

But they're pretty and they smell gorgeous.

The day after Helen died, I took some flowers round for her parents and nieces. I had cut some hellebores, apple mint, and bluebells from the garden and bought British sweet peas, narcissi, and tulips. I hoped the gentle scent would be comforting and not overwhelming or even irritating. Fortunately, Helen's mother said it was nice to have flowers again because they'd had to throw out the wilted ones which were given when Helen was ill.

It's hard to find the motivation to do things when you're troubled or when you're grieving. When I visited Helen's parents after the funeral, her mother told me that she didn't feel like gardening, and I could really empathise. I asked if she'd like some plants because I had too many, and she said OK. So the next time I went round, I took some sweet peas and cosmos. I went round last week and saw the sweet peas are in a beautiful homemade wigwam, and the cosmos are in the flower bed. Busy Lizzies are planted up in containers hanging from the fence, and the garden is looking lovely and loved. We talked about Helen and there's sadness and anger and confusion and guilt. But there's tenderness and tiny pieces of joy as well.

Sweet peas mean delicate pleasures in the Victorian language of flowers, but I've just seen that they also symbolise departure. This feels especially poignant this year. I also have another friend in mind - I don't want to name them in case they don't want me to, but I know they're going through a hard time now and sweet peas are special flowers for them.

For all of the healing these flowers can bring, I'm glad I managed to grow them. So thank you for the nudge, Sara.

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