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2005 - How Sweet It Is

...Sweet pea and melon
by Carla Allen
by Carla Allen

Greetings from Nova Scotia!

Carla Allen has been gardening for the past 25 years, co-owned a nursery in southwestern Nova Scotia for 16 years.

Carla has an extensive image library and nurtures a network of horticulture in the region. She was the first president of the Yarmouth Garden Club.

April 24, 2005

Get ready to grow high and grow wide if you want to be in tune with the National Garden Bureau’s selections for 2005. This has been designated as the year of the sweet pea and melon. Those who choose to add this flower and vegetable of the year to their gardens will be adding sweet fragrance and sweet taste.

English gardeners call sweet peas "the Queen of Annuals." These charming annuals are unique among garden flowers with their vivid colors, fragrance, and length of bloom in the garden. The flowers have an air of romance about them in both their scent and appearance.

One of my most powerful memories of a trip to Bar Harbour a few summers ago was that of entering an art gallery and having a large vase full of sweet peas capture my attention instead of the art. They were gorgeous.

The colour range of this flower is impressive and includes: crimson, navy blues, pastel lavenders, pinks, and the purest whites as solid colors, bicolors, or streaked. A handful of sweet pea varieties are not fragrant and if they are being grown for this trait, it should be verfied by packaging.

Traditional sweet peas are vining plants and should be grown on a trellis or fence, but there are some varieties that are perfect for container growing, including windowboxes and hanging baskets. Cupid varieties were popular in the early 1900’s. At one time, greater than 30 varieties were available. With the growth of interest in container gardening, Cupid lines have again become favorites of North American gardeners.

With the increasing popularity of edible flowers it’s wise to note that sweet peas are poisonous, especially the flowers and seeds.

Sweet peas are particularly well suited to growing in the Maritimes because of their preference for cool, moist weather. They will withstand some frost. You can sow them in small peat pots anytime now. Plant two or three seeds per pot—pushing each an inch down into the potting mix. Cover with soil, then water and put the pots in a cool, dark place. After about 10 days, keep an eye out for new shoots emerging above the soil. At that point, bring the plants out into the light. When the seedlings have two sets of real leaves, thin to one plant per pot. Transplant into the garden about a month before the last frost date, as soon as the soil is workable—the shoots are tough and won’t be bothered by light frost.

Heat loving melons have always been a challenge for us in the Atlantic Provinces, but one way to increase the chance of success is to grow them with a mulch of black plastic to boost the temperature surrounding them. You can start muskmelon and cantaloupe inside in early May. Don’t put them outside to harden them off until June as seedlings are very sensitive to cold and fluctuating temperatures. If cold weather threatens, make a mini-greenhouse from a one-gallon, plastic milk jug.

Melons are thirsty and hungry plants, so be prepared to provide ample soil moisture and plant nutrients for them. The first flowers produced by the vine are male and will not set fruit. Only the female flowers that have a little bulb at the base of each bloom will form melons after pollination. It’s possible to grow a dwarf melon variety in a large container if you provide it with rich soil and a trellis which you can make with nets made of old pantyhose or onion bags.

The best and sweetest flavour can be obtained by cutting back on watering approximately three weeks before harvest

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