I’ve been experimenting with different sweet peas to grow. Each year I try new ones and by early July they are usually in full bloom and I can see if my choices came good.
How do I choose which sweet peas to grow? Well, I like to be able to cut sweet peas for the home and I also enter some in my local show. If you look for sweet peas described as “good for the show bench” you will tend also to find sweet peas that are good as cut flower as they tend to have long straight stems, good colour, strong scent, and impactful flowers with multiple florets per stem.
I grow sweet peas from three different categories, summarised below.
- ‘Old Fashioned’ sweet peas are the oldest varieties and tend to be small with a strong scent and interesting colour variations.
- Modern grandiflora varieties share the scent of Old-fashioned types but have larger flower
- Spencer varieties are blowsier, with big frilly flowers, good scent, strong stems and multiple flowers per stem. These have been bred from a variety discovered in the early 20th century in the garden of Earl Spencer.
I’ve written before about how I grow sweet peas on string cordons for use as cut flower. You can read this here.
Sweet Pea – Lathyrus oderata – Spanish Dancer
This seed packet caught my eye on the Kings Seeds carousel in a small hardware store in Yorkshire. The packet said it was good as a cut flower but it was the colour combination that really appealed to me, the upper petals being pink, the lower mauve and in both cases a colour-washed appearance like watercolours blended with a wet paintbrush.
This is a modern grandiflora variety and looks incredible bunched together in a small bottle vase, where it will scent an entire room.
It’s the first time I’ve grown this and I won’t hesitate to repeat next year. This is a Spencer variety with pure white blossoms and a strong scent, but what makes this one really stand out is the number of florets per stem.
Every single one of these has at least four florets per stem and as you can see from the picture, this one has six. A blowsy flower anyway, the density of florets makes this variety incredibly impactful in the garden or in a vase. This variety was bred by Matthewman’s nursery.
What a splendid sweet pea this is.
Sweet Pea – Lathyrus oderata – ‘Painted Lady’
Painted Lady is an Old Fashioned variety and I’ve read that this is the oldest sweet pea variety in cultivation (aside from species varieties of course). According to the Chiltern Seeds website, this has been grown since the early 1700s. It is widely available from different seed suppliers.
Painted Lady has pale pink lower petals and coral pink uppers and whilst the flowers are small, they pack a punch with their scent. They look fabulous amassed together in a vase .
Sweet Pea – Lathyrus oderata – ‘Milly’
The photographs of this variety really don’t do it justice as the magenta pink colouring looks brash on film but softer and more lustrous in reality. A Spencer variety bred by Matthewman’s sweet peas, it is named in memory of the teenager Milly Dowler, who was murdered in 2002.
Milly’s family and the trust set up in her memory masterminded a beautiful garden at Hampton Court Flower Show in 2002, featuring many sweet pea varieties. The family approached fellow exhibitors, Matthewman’s, to ask if a variety could be named after her, something they don’t usually do. Sweet peas were Milly’s favourite flower – this is a beautiful sweet pea and a lovely tribute.
Sweet Pea – Lathyrus oderata – ‘Ethel Grace’
Ethel Grace is a beautiful lavender-coloured Spencer variety with good frilly flowers. There’s something about the palette of lavender mauves, which gives them an ethereal quality, particularly in soft evening light. Another first time choice for me and I’m so glad I chose it as it really draws the eye in the garden. This is another Matthewman’s variety.
Sweet Pea – Lathyrus oderata – ‘Nimbus’ and ‘Night Sky’
I’ve put these together as one choice because they are very similar in markings but in slightly different colours.
I’ve grown Nimbus before and included it in my local show exhibit 3 years ago. This was the one that most people pointed out. Available from a few suppliers, I found it extremely difficult to germinate. One packet yielded just one plant so I tried again and the and second packet yielded just 3, despite soaking first. So, I don’t have many plants but those that I do have are truly beautiful – burgundy painted ripples.
Meanwhile, Nighy Sky from Matthewman’s germinated very well and I have plants and flowers in abundance. The colour is more purple than burgundy but the patterning just as intriguing.
This seasonal diary is part of a weekly link-up of garden bloggers from around the world. For more information and links to other blogs crammed with gardening activity, check the blog of host The Propagator.