sweet-pea-flowerThe ‘Queen of Annuals’ is being billed as the cottage garden favourite for 2013′.

It’s botanical name- Lathyrus odoratus- comes from an ancient greek word (Lathyrus) meaning  pea or vetchling and odoratus meaning ‘fragrant’. The genus Lathyrus contains about 160 species and of the many cultivars of the Sweet Pea, some 52 varieties have been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit.  The many varieties of Sweet pea available today come in a wide range of colours, but not yellow!

 

 

“The Sweet Pea has a keel that was meant to seek all shores; it has wings that were meant to fly across all continents; it has a standard which is friendly to all nations; and it has a fragrance like the universal gospel, yea, a sweet prophecy of welcome everywhere that has been abundantly fulfilled” – Rev. W. T. Hutchins 1900

Sweet pea cultivation is thought to have begun in the 17th century. The originator of the modern plant naming system, the swedish botanist Linnaeus, carried on using the genus name Lathyrus, which was in common use in the 18th century, but gave the Sweet pea it’s species name odoratus to codify the various names used for it at the time.

sweet-pea-flowers-7Victorian times saw a craze for the plant and a host of new cultivars were created as a result, many beginning their lives as mutations or ‘sports’ of known varieties. The original dwarf sweet pea was found growing in a row of a popular grandiflora variety in California  in the late 19th century. It had similar flowers to its parent but was much shorter and with a spreading habit. Given the name ‘Cupid’, this later became the general name used for dwarf sweet peas. Later crossings of these and other grandifloras produced a wide range of ‘cupids’ and later still these were crossed with the newer ‘Spencer’ sweet peas which resulted in a range of ‘cupids’ with larger flowers.

The large-flowered Spencer sweet pea appears to have arisen in two or three places at around the same time, but perhaps the most famous source was the home of the Spencer family (of Lady Diana fame) in Northamptonshire. The head gardener of Althorp HouseSilas Cole – named this ‘Countess Spencer’, though he seems at the time to have claimed it arose from deliberate cross breeding rather than as an accident of nature!

Sweet peas can be grown in different ways, but perhaps the most common technique is the cordon, introduced in 1911 by Tom Jones of Ruabon. This is used to produce flowers of the highest quality and in effect is a form of pruning and training which channels the plant’s energies into a smaller number of larger blooms. This process involves:

  • The top of a young seedling being pinched out once it has produced several true leaves, which encourages branching
  • One of the resulting side shoots (a strong one emerging near the base of the plant) is retained, and the others removed before they develop
  • The remaining stem is allowed to grow and is tied in, but all of its side shoots are removed as they form, as are any tendrils to prevent them fastening onto the flower stems
  • The fewer flower stems produce larger blooms and once finished these flowers are removed to encourage new ones to form.

Several plants can be grown in this way along a row to produce a sweet pea screen.

Fresh sweet pea flowers in the house have been shown to improve general wellbeing, boost both male and female libido, and lessen the effects of a hangover! However, the seeds of some species of Lathyrus contain a toxic amino acid which if eaten in large quantities can cause the serious disease Lathyrism.

sweet-pea-flowers

Sources and further information:

Lathyrus.info.org

Lathyrus.com

Sweet Pea Flower pictures

Quizzicals: two more cryptic clues to plants, fruit or veg:

  • Has had too much already
  • A country full of automobiles

Old School Gardener

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