July 22, 2008

English Sweet Peas

'Tribute', an intensely fragrant Spencer variety of Sweet Pea

It's only on the odd year that I try to grow the Spencer varieties of Sweet Pea, Lathyrus odoratus. These fragrant annuals which were once so popular as a cut flower, fell out of fashion most likely due to the fact that they are not long lasting. Commercially, they do not ship well, and they are expensive, if not challenging to grow well. Not that they are difficult, by any means, they are easy and care-free enough if you can provide something for them to grow on ( I use birch twigs which are 6 feet tall) and the most difficult thing to provide, is the cool, damp weather, which they need in order to grow well.

Here in New England, we can get terrible hot and humid summers, such as this one. But I think I am having a good year with Sweet Peas, because we are getting decent rainfall, and they are sited in a location where they can get a hose every day, if needed. The seed this year came from www.lathyrus.com, Owl's Acre Sweet Peas, and if I knew that this would be a good year, I would have planted more. For whatever reason, I was rushed, and/or lazy, and I remember on one evening after work in March, I hastily scratched a few holes in the ground and dumped in a few packets of seed. I had ordered, as I tend to do, a few dozen varieties of these Spencer Exhibition varieties, but it seems I did not pay attention to the colors, and I only planted pink varieties, forgetting my favorites - the light blues. Perhaps this fall, I can raise a crop.

Suzy Z, a 'fancy Flake' variety from England.

This Lilac striped or 'chiped' form is especially nice. These were once favored by turn-of-the-century growers in the United States, and even antique seed catalogs often featured these stripped forms on their covers. Today, they are a little difficult to find, but still worth searching out. Their fragrance is unbelievable, and as many of the English Spencer forms, their stems are long and their flowers are much larger that American grown varieties that are available from the USA seed catalogs.


  1. ( I use birch twigs which are 6 feet tall)

    I'm still trying to imagine a 6-foot twig. ;-)

    Cut flowers are nice, but it's also wonderful just to leave the flowers in place. Thanks for this tribute to the Spencer variety of sweet peas, which is one of my favorite flowers.

  2. Anonymous8:56 AM

    Here in ancient England ! it has also been a wonderful year for sweetpeas and whilst not six feet tall mine do very well on a four foot trellis frame. Good luck and keep growing Spencer's = we in UK certainly do
    Neil - from old Hampshire !


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