Twiners and Climbers
I was tying up twine on a trellis for my sweet peas today—a tedious job, but one that pays off, because sweet peas don’t come into glorious bloom unless they have something to twine around.
It took me a long while to find out that there are twiner vines and climber vines, and if you give a vine the wrong support, it sulks. I gave my sweet peas bamboo trellises and they did nothing, despite all my coddling. I finally became enlightened when I bought an old Brooklyn Botanical Garden pamphlet at some library sale or thrift shop. The pamphlet explained that there are twiner vines and climber vines, and they need different types of support. If you don’t give a vine the type of support it needs, then it languishes. That’s why my sweet peas lolled against the bamboo trellises and the cool twine trellises I crocheted them: I wasn’t giving them what they needed.
Sweet peas are twiner vines: they need to spiral themselves around something to grow and thrive. And they need those supports before they are high enough to fall over, or they will never do well.
But as I write this, I’m starting to wonder: sweet peas have tendrils, which would imply that they’re designed to grab on to things, and I know that there are net fences specifically designed for peas. If anyone has the ultimate word on this, I’d be delighted to hear it. All I know is that sweet peas do better for me when they have skinny supports. And I’m not the only one.
Ruth Stout (in my personal garden writer Hall of Fame) talks about growing peas in her Connecticut garden. While her peas were edible, their requirements are the same as sweet peas. And they apparently require the same tedious work for proper support. She describes how she told her friend Scott Nearing that she had to have 240 feet of peas, but she couldn’t face getting the brush for all of them.
When he asked her why she had to have so many peas, she said, “I don’t know.”A man wise in the ways of obsession, he told her not to worry, so she planted the seed, “thinking—well, not thinking, I guess, not trying to figure out what magic Scott had used to keep them from needing brush. He said not to worry and he never used idle words.”One morning she finds him in her garden, putting in a truckload of brush supports for her peas. He’d driven from Vermont to Connecticut to bring them.
This would be my ideal way to support sweet peas. Unfortunately, I don’t have any garden-magician friends, so I’ve resigned myself to spending a few hours tying twine on my trellises every few years. (Hemp twine is strong, looks good in the garden, and lasts in the weather longer than you would think possible for a piece of string. End of commercial.) I’m glad I don’t have to do twine for 240 feet of sweet peas—but that many sweet peas sounds like a wonderful idea–if only I could get somebody else to do the supports. For now I’ll have to rely on audio books to keep me entertained enough to persist for several feet of trellis.
Next post we’ll get into planting times for sweet peas—especially for climates with short springs and hot summers.
Handbook on Vines, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, BBG 1972. The BBG handbooks, past and present, are collections of monographs on a single given subject, written by people who know a lot about the field. No fluff, good pictures, and plenty of information in a small space. (No, I didn’t get paid to write this!)
How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back, Ruth Stout, Cornerstone Library 1976 (reprint), pg. 33-34