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10 Neat Things About Sweetpeas
by Dorothy Dobbie
by Dorothy Dobbie

The Local Gardener magazines, Ontario Gardener, Manitoba Gardener and Alberta Gardener, are published by Pegasus Publications Inc.

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a senior executive in the magazine publishing industry, Dorothy launched Manitoba Gardener in 1998, initially running the business out of her home. Two years later, Dorothy's daughter Shauna, living in Ontario, jumped into the fray with Ontario Gardener. And two years after that, they started Alberta Gardener. Visit us at and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

March 28, 2017

1. How sweet it is.

Lathyrus odoratus is the Latin name for sweet pea. Lathyrus is Latin for pea or pulse, and odoratus means "fragrant or perfumed". Sweet peas smell like rose freesia with honey-like overtones. The sweet peas we love to grow in our gardens are annuals, but there is a perennial (Lathyrus latifolius). Its flowers are not as showy and it can become invasive in the right circumstances.

2. Fly repellent.

"The odor of the sweet pea is so offensive to flies that it will drive them out of a sick-room, though not in the slightest degree disagreeable to the patient." So said the The Old Farmer's Almanac in 1899. Is it true? I haven't been able to find sweet peas in any herbal fly repellent list, but you never know. At the very least, a bouquet of sweet peas will make your rooms smell heavenly.

3. April flowers.

Sweet peas are the birth flower of those born in April. Being called sweet pea is also a term of endearment. Sweet pea stands for departure or goodbye and thank you for the lovely time, adieu until we meet again. It is associated with delicate pleasure, blissful pleasure.

4. Sweet pea society.

The British are crazy about sweet peas - so much so that they have a National Sweet Pea Society that claims sweet peas go back 300 years. While that's true in England thanks to a Sicilian priest named Franciscus Cupani, who sent some sweet pea seeds to the sceptered Isle, sweet peas had been growing wild in Sicily. The seeds he sent were given the name 'Cupani'. The variety has small flowers and short stems, but is fantastically scented and intensely coloured in hues of violet, blue-purple and wine.

5. Blinded by the light.

Sweet pea seeds need to be well covered with soil. They will not germinate in the light. Plant at a depth of one-half inch. Sweet peas like cool nights and cool days and may slow down when the temperatures reach above 65 F (18 C).

6. In a fortnight - or less.

Sweet peas seeds will germinate in seven to 15 days. They like cool feet with their blossoms in the sunlight. Mulching will help to keep their roots cool. Acidic soil should be treated with a dusting of lime as they like alkaline conditions. Be sure you have a fence or a trellis or something else for the plant to climb on unless you are growing the bush variety.

7. Peas porridge hot, peas planted cold.

Sweet peas like a cool climate and should be planted directly into the garden as soon as the soil can be worked in spring. The seeds are large and will benefit from an overnight soaking and even a nicking with a nail file, although if the soil is cold and moist they will usually germinate without help. In warmer climates - say zone 8 - gardeners are advised to plant them in the fall. The darker the flower, the harder the coating. After soaking, nick the ones that didn't swell up and become soft, to improve germination.

8. Pick me! Pick me!

Sweet pea is the queen of the cutting garden. Like beans and cucumbers, sweet peas love to be picked. Cut them in early morning when the dew is still on them and they are at their sweetest and they will reward you with even more blooms. Harvest the stem when the lowest bud is just about to open for the longest lasting cut flowers.

9. The sweet 250.

It is estimated that there are about 250 varieties of sweet peas to choose from. Among these is 'America', an heirloom variety from 1896 that could help celebrate Canada's 150th birthday this year as it is white with red stripes. 'Old Spice', another heirloom from Sicily, comes in white, cream, lavender, pink and purple.

10. Cordon my sweet peas.

This is a method used by sweet pea fanciers to produce bigger flowers. Choosing the strongest stem, remove side shoots and tendrils to encourage the plant to put all its effort into the remaining stem. Not everyone thinks this is a good idea, however, especially if you want more flowers. You will indeed get fewer flowers, but the blossoms will be bigger.

Sweet Pea (Delicate Pleasures)

"Here are sweet peas, on tip-toe for a flight:

With wings of gentle flush o'er delicate white,

And taper fingers catching at all things,

To bind them all about with tiny rings."

-John Keats (1795-1821)

Dorothy Dobbie Copyright© Pegasus Publications

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