Every child loves a tunnel, as does my dog. With this in mind, this year I decided to make a tunnel laced with sweet peas to create a magical sensory experience from the fairy garden to the play area. This time of year is the perfect time to do it. The ground is soft which makes it easier to form the tunnel's structure, and growing the sweet peas indoors to start can yield much more robust plants.
It is, of course, possible to plant sweet peas directly outdoors when the weather has warmed up. However, I have always found that you get a much more robust plant of better quality by starting to grow them indoors now.
1. Begin by soaking the seeds in a warm, damp paper towel or by piercing small holes into the seeds, to help them to gain moisture. A 12-hour soak should do the job.
2. Find some small deep pots to plant them in. I prefer to use natural decomposable pots as they create the least amount of trauma to the roots when planted. They also give the plant plenty of growing room.
3. Use a rich, fertile soil. Keep it moist, but not waterlogged, at all times. Plant 2-3 seeds per pot. Cover them with around 2cms of compost to keep them cosy and firmed down.
4. Keep them cool so that the roots have a chance to develop a strong presence before the shoots rise. A cold frame or cool greenhouse is perfect.
5. Pinch the top of seedlings when they have up to 3-4 leaves to create stronger, bushier foliage.
The more sweet peas you pick, the better they flower. This is a bonus as you'll not only get a beautiful tunnel but a bright bouquet for your home too!
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I found that using the dried willow that I had stored away worked best, but hazel would work well too.
1. Soak the dried lengths in the bath for about 10-12 hours. I used warm water and held it down with a towel to ensure that the whole bunch got a good soak.
2. While you are waiting, measure up and mark out your tunnel. Make holes about 1-2ft apart on either side of your pathway at equal distances along.
3. Next dig a small trench, a little larger than your pots, either side of the holes.
4. Take your willow, and using 3-4 sprigs at a time, place into the holes and weave them together. I kept mine wrapped in the damp towel to keep them subtle. Twist them around on both sides until they meet up and can be twisted together to form an arch.
5. For extra support, continue this along your tunnel but take one of the sprigs and weave it into its neighbour to create another walled arch.
6. If any of the structure doesn't look strong enough, use gardening twine to secure. Make sure that no rogue ends are sticking out, to save those little one's eyes.
7. Finally, once your sweet peas are ready and all signs of frost have disappeared, plant them out into the trench and fill with good rich compost. You can now start training them up your structure. With any luck, this summer you will have a fragrant and colourful pathway leading from one magical place to another.