If asked on BBC’s Pointless programme to name a fragrant flower the sweet pea would be a high scorer and therefore an answer to be avoided. Well known and widely grown the sweet pea seems to have always been in fashion and is certainly not to be avoided in the garden.
Sicilian monk, Brother Franciscus Cupani, discovered the original sweet pea back in the 1690’s. Keen to share his find Brother Cupani sent seeds to various breeders across the world. Dr Robert Uvedale in the UK went on to develop several different forms including the well-known Cupani and Painted Lady.
The popularity of sweet peas continued to grow with many new varieties being bred. Perhaps the most well-known being the long-stemmed and showy Spencer type. By the early 20th century the popularity of sweet peas had reached fever pitch with shows being dedicated to this single cultivar and large sums of money being won as prizes.
A member of the Leguminosae family the sweet pea is indeed a pea. The Greek name is Lathyrus odoratus meaning literally fragrant pea. Yet whereas garden peas are of course edible the sweet pea is most definitely not.
Eating any part of the sweet pea plant can cause convulsions, temporary paralysis of the legs and unconsciousness. So, grow sweet peas to enjoy the colour and the fragrance, keeping them well away from the kitchen!
So, at this time of year, how can you get the best from your sweet pea plants?
- Feed the plants once a fortnight with liquid feed and water during dry spells
- Check that the plants have sufficient support and improve if necessary, tying the stems in with soft twine
- Remove side-shoots and tendrils as this will increase the vigour of the main stem
- If buds start to drop then this is probably due to a change in weather and will stop once things settle
- Aphids are the most likely pest so keep an eye out for them. Take a look at our aphid control blog post for help on dealing with an aphid attack
- The more blooms you pick then the more you will get so pick often, certainly every 2 to 3 days
- If you do spot any seed pods forming, then snip them off immediately. As soon as the plant thinks it has secured the next generation by setting seed it will stop flowering. So, keep those scissors handy!
- The best time to pick is early morning or in the evening. Avoid picking during the heat of the day as they will quickly dehydrate and this will reduce the vase life
- Cut the stems cleanly, leaving them as long as you can. Immediately plunge the stems, up to their necks, in a bucket of cold water. Leave the bucket in the shade until you are ready to transfer the stems to vases
- If you’re going on holiday arrange for a friend or neighbour to pop round and pick your sweet peas. They’ll get lovely free flowers for the house and the plants will keep blooming
- If you return from holiday and find the friends or neighbours didn’t pick enough and the plants have start to set seed, then do not despair! Instead, remove all flower stems, water and feed. This should hopefully revive the plants and they’ll start to bloom again.
Come the sad day when flowering really has ended just pull the plants up and add them to the compost. Then sit down with your Dobies catalogue, or browse the website, and select the varieties to grow next year!