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Growing sweet peas
The sweet pea is a British favourite; not quite as popular as the rose but definitely up there in the top five. However, while there are numerous songs and poems about roses, the poets and wandering minstrels have been a bit sluggish when it comes to the sweet pea.
The best I can find is a cowboy song that was a hit in 1966 “Sweet pea / Apple of my eye / Don’t know when and I don’t know why”. Nice but not exactly horticulturally relevant.*
Anyway, sweet peas are flowering now. Lathyrus odoratus is the Latin and they have the most divine scent. The secret is to grow the long-stemmed Spencer varieties and to keep on picking them: pretty much every day. If you stop and let them start seeding then they will flower much less vigorously.
But, I don’t want to talk about them, but instead about the less well-known and less appreciated perennial sweet pea, Lathyrus latifolius. In a village near here it has colonised the sunny side of an old hedge, where it scrambles through the undergrowth and spills down a grassy bank. The flowers are strong purple and pink and it is a wonderful sight. I wish I had a photograph but driving while taking plant portraits tends to be frowned upon by the constabulary in these parts. It is easy to grow, needing only sunshine and if happy will self-seed prolifically so you will have lots to give away to deserving friends. It also works well in more domestic situations and can easily be persuaded to climb a fence or a garden arch.
Even better you do not have to go through all the heartache of having your precious seedlings devoured by mice every year. **
The major disadvantage? It has virtually no discernible scent.
* Oops. I have missed the obvious “Here are the sweet peas, on tip-toe for a flight. With wings of gentle flusho’er delicate White, And taper fingers catching at all things. To bind them all about with tiny rings.” John Keats. I found it on the Sweet Pea Society website, along with lots of other useful stuff.
** You will detect a slight note of bitterness in the final sentence, which is directly related to my personal experiences of growing annual sweet peas.
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