An ode to sweet peas

My favourite July flower is the sweet pea: it takes me straight back to my childhood.

My Nanny Drew grew sweet peas up against the shed in her garden in South London.  I remember a row of them scrambling up Heath Robinson-style homemade supports and netting, which had probably been used for this purpose for many years.

When we visited on a Sunday, we would be plied with squash and Nanny’s famous rock cakes or bread pudding.  If we were lucky, she would have washing on her line: my sister and I enjoyed watching it blow in the wind, but it was even better if we could help get it in!  We loved doing that because it made us feel like sailors: her line must have been 8-10 metres high, supported by a huge pole and attached to the house, next to an upstairs window.  Carefully unhooking and slowly letting the heavy line down, hand over hand, really felt like we were hauling in the rope on a tall ship!

Sweet gifts

When we left, Nanny would cut some sweet peas and wrap them carefully in damp kitchen roll and tinfoil, so we had a posy to take home with us.  It's something I find myself doing  now, when people come to my house and the sweet peas are in flower. 

Now I realise that my ‘make do and mend’ Nanny created these delicious cakes, flowers and jams thriftily.  I never saw the sweet pea seedlings, but they were cheap to buy or could even be swapped over the garden fence.  Blackberry and apple jam was foraged for (although I’m sure she would never have used that word) and rock cakes and bread pudding aren't expensive to make.

Garden memories

I’m not alone in having such strong memories of the gardens I played in as a child.  Recently, I asked the members of my Facebook gardening group, ‘Gorgeous Gardeners’, for their childhood garden memories and there were similar stories of gardens where raspberry canes became places to hide, and sit-on lawnmowers created big stripes in the lawn.

In fact, the nostalgia we have for the gardens of our childhood can influence current trends and fashion.  This may be one of the reasons behind the recent upsurge in interest for growing dahlias.  I predict more chrysanthemums and conifers, and the comeback of crazy paving!

Quiet pleasures

In July, our gardens are lush with growth and colour from the rain and eventual warmth of spring.  Our gardens enter a lull period, especially when they are beset by the recent high temperatures.  The fresh new summer greens and colours are held for a moment in time before they start to fade. 

This lull sets the pace for July; a time where watering in the early morning or evening is a quiet pleasure, and a time for pottering, taking in the many sights, smells and sounds around you.  Follow the lead of the insects and birds in your garden: they are busy at either end of the day but slow down in the heat, so do the same and spend some time sitting and enjoying your outdoor space.

You might pick a few ripe strawberries or harvest the first radishes or rocket, but most definitely pick the sweet peas to bring indoors, or to give to another, as you never know what memories you might be creating.

Renee Canter - The Girl Who Gardens


Renée is a local gardener and designer whose Heath Robinson tendencies run strong in her Drew DNA. Go to to read more about her and how she can help you make a garden full of memories.

Read more of Renée's columns here.




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