This year and last year I’ve been relating to my sweet peas in a new and to me kind of uncomfortable way – I’m on the cordoning band wagon.

Cordoning sweet peas for cut flowers has been around in Great Britain since the 1910’s. Tom Jones (not that Tom Jones), a sweet pea fancier from Wales, unveiled the method in 1913, likely based on centuries-old techniques for growing tomatoes. Cordoning involves choosing a single stem from each plant, training it up a support, and cutting off absolutely everything else that distracts that plant from making big beautiful flowers – off come all side branches, all tendrils. The leaves need to stay of course, to make food, but that’s it.

It makes me feel cruel. At the same time, it’s hard to argue with the results. The plants develop what is, for a sweet pea plant, a brittle green tree trunk of a stem; and when the flowers come, full and ruffled, each one flutters like a butterfly on the tip of a 12-18 inch stem, sometimes longer. Perfect for bouquets.

It takes time and then some. That weekly blitzkrieg through the sweet pea rows, lopping off parts and dropping them to the ground, can add up to hours. And because the plant is pouring all its energy into that one stem, it grows inches a day, meaning it quickly climbs to the top of its support and, more importantly, out of my reach. Then that long chalk-brittle stem has to be carefully laid on the ground for several feet so it can be re-attached and trained up another support further along, bringing the new flowers within my reach again for a few weeks before the whole process has to be repeated.

On the other hand, it SAVES labor spent in cutting, cutting, cutting the incredible wall of flowers that 100 feet of untrained sweet peas throw. I have to cut all older flowers before they set seed, or they will send a signal to the plant to stop blooming because the mission of reproduction has been accomplished. Also, if I didn’t cordon them, I might cut armloads of flowers but they might be only 6-8 inches long, too short to be much use in bouquets; they’re just really pretty compost. So in the end, it’s a wash as far as labor invested training the plants on the front end, labor saved at harvest.

At the end of the week it’s a relief to stop all my busy cordoning – chopping, training, re-tying – to stand there quietly next to the sweet pea vines in the spring twilight, smelling their fragrance and listening to the rain on the high tunnel, and notice how little it matters to the sweet peas – big or bigger flower, short or long stem, they just go on growing beautiful flowers whether I interfere or not. I hope they forgive me.

One thought on “Sweet peas tamed

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