Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
Celebrities stage comebacks. So do cut flowers. In this case it’s the old-fashioned sweet pea. There’s a revival of interest in these charming vines.
Sweet peas appeal directly to our senses. Their rich clove fragrance is intoxicating. The unique blossoms appear in the cool months from spring to mid summer. In areas with a long growing season, they’re planted in the fall.
Sweet peas aim to please, and you can have your choice of colors. They range from vivid reds and purples to pastel whites and pinks. There are even bicolors available.
For heirloom gardens, heirloom varieties are preferred. Father Cupani
discovered Cupani in Sicily in the late 1600’s. Another variety, Matucana, is said to be almost identical.
Painted Lady sweet pea dates from the 1700’s. It sports pink and white bicolored flowers.
Mrs. Collier is a later introduction dating from 1906, but it still qualifies as an heirloom variety. This beauty has butter yellow blossoms.
Other heirloom varieties include Miss Wilmott, King Edward VIII, Lord Nelson, and Captain of the Blue.
Heirloom sweet pea varieties have a lot in their favor. They’re easier to grow than contemporary introductions.
GROWING SWEET PEAS
All sweet peas prefer full sun. A rich, well-drained soil high in organic matter is best. Composted manure is often added and dug into the bed before the seeds are planted.
Plant annual sweet pea seeds about six weeks before the last expected spring frost in your area. In the South and elsewhere where summers are hot, plant them in the fall instead. They can even be grown in cool greenhouses during the winter.
Before planting soak the seeds overnight. Check the seeds, and use a nail file to nick any didn’t swell. Plant the seeds about an inch deep. They should germinate in about ten to fourteen days. Sweet peas benefit from a trellis, so install one just after you plant the seeds. Doing it later may damage the plants.
Mulch the soil around the plants to keep the roots cool and moist.
If you’re short on space, grow sweet peas in containers. Generally the smaller varieties are preferred for this.
Want your sweet peas to bloom longer? Pick the flowers often. Use the stems as a cut flower. This helps them to bloom for several months.
Many sweet peas are annuals. However some are perennials. Some of these seem to grow wild along the roadsides. These are called everlasting peas, and have escaped from cultivation. They tend to have purple or pink flowers. The Thompson & Morgan (www.thompsonmorgan.com) catalog features quite a few perennial varieties as well as annual ones.
Seeds for heirloom sweet peas aren’t hard to find. There is even one website (www.enchantingsweetpeas.com) specializing in these beautiful plants.
In addition to the many fine heirloom varieties of sweet peas, it is worthwhile to try some of the newer ones as well. For 2004, Thompson & Morgan chose Sweet Pea ‘Sugar ‘N’ Spice’ as its Flower of the Year. This gorgeous dwarf variety is sweetly fragrant. The short, bushy plants never need pinching, and stay compact all season long. Flower colors vary from gorgeous whites and delicate pinks to sassy purples as well as bicolors. These plants are hardy annuals, meaning they can tolerate cool temperatures of fall very well.
Sweet peas are so irresistible. If I had more garden space, I know what I would choose to grow.