Lathyrus odoratus

The sweet-pea is too well known to need description. All one can usefully do is to discuss various ways of growing this marvellous hardy annual.

I used, years ago, to sow frilled Spencer sweet-peas in the open ground in spring, in a heavily manured place in full sun, and never failed to revel in weeks of flowers from mid-summer onward. I grew them up peasticks cottage fashion -I still like them best this way, and grow hazel bushes to provide the sticks – and I cut and deadheaded them religiously, never allowing a seed pod to weaken the plants. In dry weather I gave them a thin mulch of grass mowings, not too fresh and steamy. This is an amateur’s method, and serious gardeners who want larger and finer flowers grow sweet-peas up tall canes, pinching out all tendrils and tying in the shoots.

Today, sowing in the open ground (in Britain, at any rate) is a thing of the past, for our climate has changed so much, the spring getting ever colder and later, that one must sow seeds under glass and plant out later, or else buy plants. I like a mixture of pale ‘sweet-pea’ shades with one or two richer colours, like wine-coloured ‘Beaujolais’ or mauve-blue ‘Noel Sutton’.

In addition to the Spencer sweet-peas, it is nice to sow a little group of the old grandiflora sweet-peas (that is, sweet-peas before the first large-flowered, frilled, modern sweet-peas were bred in 1899), which are smaller, but have a stronger scent. Most seedsmen sell these in mixed packets, but good named varieties, if you can find them, are ‘Matucana’, a maroon and violet bi-colour, and ‘Sicilian Pink’, which is cyclamen-pink and white.

One deplorable modern heresy is the dwarfing of sweet-peas, a novelty damned by splendid old Miss Jekyll, who called them ‘little dwarf monstrosities’.

She felt that the beautiful flowers should be seen on a level with the eye. As the stunted sweet-peas ‘require a little sup-port’, which is a euphemism for staking, I see no point in them.

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