These instructions for growing a sweet pea garden arch are from the book, Gardening on a Shoestring: 100 Fun Upcycled Garden Projects by Alex Mitchell. Grab some sweet pea seeds and willow rods, and make this gorgeous, scented archway (or secret tunnel) for your garden.
If you are new to growing sweet peas, see 10 Best Tips for Growing Sweet Peas.
This excerpt from Gardening on a Shoestring is used with permission from Cool Springs Press who also provided a review copy of the book.
How to Make a Sweet Pea Tunnel Garden Arch
Sweet Peas | Genus: Lathyrus
Sweet Peas | Genus: Lathyrus
Sweet Pea Growing Guide
Flowering plant or vine
• Annual hardiness zones 7 up
• Perennial L. latifolius is invasive
• Best: 6 hours morning sun
• Well-draining soil, rich in compost
• Do best in moderate summer temperatures, not heat
• Cut flowers: 4 to 5 days with preservative in vase water
• Seeds can be harvested for seed saving
Shop Online: Buy sweet pea seeds at Botanical Interests (US shipping)
This project uses willow rods. If they are not available in your area, ask for alternate suggestions at a local garden nursery or garden club. What you choose may depend on whether you want the arch to last for just one season or many years to come.
- Brown, soaked willow rods (not living or green since this may root).
For every three feet of tunnel you will need around 40 rods each about 9 feet long.
If the tunnel is for children, they could be a little shorter.
- Garden twine
- Sweet pea seeds (Amazon) | Sweet pea seeds (Botanical Interests)
Seed Buying Tips
Sweet pea vine seeds are available as annuals and perennials.
Avoid the perennial type, known as Everlasting Sweet Pea, which can be invasive.
You want to get annual sweet pea seeds that grow as vines (usually 5-6 feet tall).
Sweet Pea Seeds | Botanical Interests
Sweet Pea Seeds | Amazon
When to Sow Sweet Pea Seeds
There are a few options for timing your seed starting:
1 Start indoors late winter / early spring (8-10 weeks before last frost).
2 Sow directly outdoors early spring (6 weeks before last frost).
3 Sow directly outdoors in autumn: recommended for mild winter climates where the ground does not freeze.
The optimum soil temperature for sowing sweet pea seeds is
See How to Grow Sweet Peas for detailed growing tips.
How to Do It
- Push the thick ends of the rods into the ground on either side of the path, spacing them more or less equally, at a distance of about 3 inches apart.
- Now bend over the tops of each opposing pair so they meet in the middle.
- When you are happy with the height of the tunnel, tie the rods together at that point to form a series of arches.
- Strengthen the top of the tunnel by twirling any thin ends left over around the opposite rod and typing in the ends securely.
- Now strengthen the sides of the tunnel and give your sweet peas plenty of horizontal supports to climb.
- Make sure the rods have been soaked so they are sufficiently flexible.
- Take a rod and carefully weave it horizontally through all the uprights, about 8 inches from the ground.
- If it doesn’t reach all the way to the end of the tunnel, continue with a new rod, tying any loose ends as you go.
- Repeat just above the first lateral, but this time weaving in the alternate pattern to create a strong bond.
- Weave in a further rod so you have three laterals and then repeat this on the other side of the tunnel.
- Weave in two further groups of laterals on each side, at about 16 inch intervals, so that the tunnel feels strong and secure.
Now you are ready to sow your sweet peas.
- Space seeds about 2 inches apart along the base of the tunnel on each side.
- You want a profusion of color, so really pack in the seeds.
- Water well and protect the seedlings from slugs and snails until they are established.
- Tie in the stems to the supports as they grow to help them along and when they start flowering, keep picking to encourage them to produce more blooms.
After flowering, use these tips for collecting sweet pea seeds for next year.
Gardening on a Shoestring
100 Fun Upcycled Garden Projects by Alex Mitchell
Gardening on a Shoestring | Amazon
- How to be a Shoestring Gardener
- Pots for a Pittance
- Style on a Shoestring
- Grow Food for Peanuts
- Now to Make New Plants for Free
- How Not to Waste Money on Gardening Supplies
- Keep Your Garden Healthy for (Almost) Nothing
The book features 100 fun, upcycled garden projects and there’s all sorts of great ideas including frugal and fabulous garden containers, propagating plants (free new plants from the ones you already have), smart choices for garden supplies (without wasting money), and keeping your garden healthy (for next to nothing). The photographs are lovely and everything comes with creative twists that make us love gardening just a little bit more.
This project, the sweet pea garden arch, is a fun idea for a spot in the garden where you might like a secret pathway leading to something special. If you have children, it’s just an all-round fun play place, and you could aim it toward their own little garden sitting area, picnic spot, or veg garden. As it fills in, it will become the most beautiful, naturally-scented tunnel with all those reds, pinks, and purples. In the book, Alex suggests it as a pathway to the trampoline which sounds like a fine idea.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
How to Grow a Sweet Pea Garden Arch
Supplies & Materials
- 50 Sweet Pea Seeds Annual, climbing
- 40 Willow rods – 9 feet long soaked in water
- Push thick ends of willow rods into ground on either side of path, spacing them equally approximately 3-inches apart.
- Bend over tops of each opposing pair so they meet in the middle.
- Tie rods securely together with twine so they form a series of arches.
- Weave additional rods horizontally through the vertical rods near base for extra strength.
- Sow seeds 2-inches apart along the base of each side.
- Water well and protect from slugs and snails.
- Use twine to support sweet pea vine as it grows.