Sweet Peas – Lathyrus Odoratus
Sweet Peas are native of Sicily, where they prosper in cool thin woods, along riverbanks, foothills and along beaches. There they grow as perennial climbers bearing small, strongly scented flowers. Breeders began in 1718 to produce variations of the wild plant, and by 1900 there were more than 250 different varieties grown.
Named for Father Cupani, the Italian monk who first sent seeds to England , ‘Cupani’s Original’ closely resembles the original cultivated sweet pea. It’s highly fragrant bi-coloured flowers are a striking combination of deep maroon purple and soft violet. One of the hybrids are Spencer’s, which were developed where Lady Diana was born, seems to be the most popular type of sweet pea. They are bred for large flowers and ruffled petals over a range of colours from red to blue, pink and white, including all imaginable shades between. In North America we have two main varieties which were developed here, the Royals and Cuthbertson. Both have multi blooms. Cuthbertson bloom earlier but Royals can have 7 to 8 blooms to a spike. Today, there are many choices: “Henry Eckford” -a fragrant, bright orange heirloom Grandiflora variety. “Lipstick” -with long stems and huge cherry-red frilly flowers”. “ Saltwater Taffy Swirls” -a heavy bloomer that boasts uniquely coloured blooms of chocolate, maroon, purple, crimson and blue that have rippled veins of bright colour streaked across.”Old Spice” -a collection of dwarf growing, extremely fragrant heirloom varieties found in a range of pastel shades as well as some striped and bi-coloured types.
In our area, sweet pea should be planted in rich soil as soon as the ground is workable in the spring [March to May]. The soil will certainly be cold, snow may even fall, but the seed must begin the ground, waiting for spring warmth.
Most professionals advise to dig a trench 18 inches deep and at least one foot wide. Four to six inches of aged manure and compost should be put in the bottom of the trench and the trench filled with rich earth. The top of the bed should be mounded so the soil that receives the seed will be looser, warmer and drier than the ground beneath.
Seeds are slow to germinate in chilly soil. To speed up germination, gardeners should soak their seed 24 hours. To plant, dig a six-inch trench in the prepared bed, add the seeds and cover with about 1/2 inch of fluffy soil. When the peas sprout and come up through this soil and are about an inch above the soil line, fill the trench in another half inch. As the peas grow, fill in until the soil in mounded up a bit.
When the vines are about six inches tall, they should be trimmed to stand six inches apart. Provide support netting.
During the growing season, sweet peas should be kept cool and moist. They appreciate generous watering. A three inch layer of compost, grass clippings or shredded leaves will help conserve moisture. If the ground is well prepared and rich in nutrients, little fertilizer is necessary. Should they need a boost, manure tea, seaweed extract or similar matter may be applied.
Once the plants begin to flower – and they will if you are faithful in following these growing tips – the more you pick them, the more flowers they will offer. Gathering flowers is the best possible encouragement for the plants.
Fragrant or frilly, short or tall, there’s a sweet pea for everyone.
Botanica’s Pocket Annuals and Perennials
Articles & Materials from :
Julia Avery – Past President Chester Garden Club
Margery Dykeman -former gardening columnist
Niki Jabour – https://savvygardening.com