LATHYRUS

The original Sweet Pea (L. odoratus) came to Britain from Sicily in 1699, but it was not until the Victorian era that the tall garden varieties in a multitude of colours appeared. The range of colours and heights has continued to increase, but some of the old-fashioned fragrance has been lost. The Sweet Pea is an easy plant to grow, producing several dainty flowers on each stem and armfulsof blooms for indoors. There are a few points to remember-prepare the site properly, soak black-seeded varieties overnight before sowing, pinch out the tops when the plants are about 4 in. high, provide support for the tendrils and water thoroughly in dry weather. Regularly remove dead blooms.

VARIETIES: For tall plants and large flowers choose Spencer varieties. If you are growing for exhibition, use the cordon method – train a single stem up each cane and remove all unnecessary growth such as tendrils and side-shoots. For garden display choose a highly fragrant variety and grow the plants over a wigwam of canes or against a frame of trellis or plastic netting. First class Spencer varieties include ‘Air Warden’ (orange-scarlet), ‘Winston Churchill’ (crimson), ‘Leamington’ (lavender), ‘White Ensign’ (white) and ‘Mrs R. Bolton’ (pink). The Hedge varieties such as ‘Knee-hT and ‘Jet Set’ are much more compact, growing about 3 ft high and needing little support. The 1 ft high Dwarf varieties need no support at all – look for the name ‘Bijou’, ‘Snoopea’, ‘Patio’ or ‘Little Sweethearts’ on the packet.

SITE AND SOIL: Any well-drained garden soil – choose a sunny, open position. For exhibition blooms, deep digging and the incorporation of bulky organic matter are essential.

PLANT DETAILS: Height 1-8 ft.

Spacing: 6 in.-1 ft.

Flowering period: June-October.

PROPAGATION: Sow in pots in October and overwinter in a cold frame – plant out in March or April. Alternatively sow outdoors in March or April.

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