Sweet Peas

The enchanting Sweet Pea ? what does it bring to mind? The song lyrics, ?Oh, Sweet Pea, c?mon and dance with me . . .?, perhaps the darling baby Sweet Pea with Popeye and Olive Oyl, or even a term of endearment in your own home. What could inspire this token of affection? The lovely ?Queen of the Annuals?, Lathyrus odoratus, the flowering Sweet Pea. Gorgeous colors, soft textures, prolific blooms, and oh-so-glorious scent have made Sweet Peas a favorite among gardeners worldwide.

Who, When and Where

The origins of the Sweet Pea are said to be in Sicily and Southern Italy as a wildflower. Around 1695, Franciscus Cupani, a Sicilian monk, took interest in the small purple and blue flowers that grew in the monastery garden in Palermo. He gathered seeds and sent them to acquaintances in England and Amsterdam. From there the popularity of the Sweet Pea spread, encouraging the development of new varieties, reaching 264 varieties by 1900. In that year the National Sweet Pea Society was founded in the United Kingdom and at present continues to broaden the public knowledge of Sweet Peas (visit for more information.)

Growing Sweet Peas

Location, soil, and timing - three essentials for growing most any plant. Sweet Peas like morning sun and afternoon shade. To prepare the soil, dig deep (about 12 inches) and enrich the soil with compost or manure. For temperate climates, plant Sweet Peas in late Fall to give them a head-start in growth for blooming in early Spring. In colder climates, plant as soon as the soil can be worked or start seeds indoors.

For faster seed germination, soak seeds overnight in water or nick the seed coat opposite the growing point. When the plants are 4-5 inches high, pinch off the tips to cause branching of stems, resulting in a stronger plant. As the Sweet Peas grow, they will need a trellis or pole support. Depending on the variety, they can reach 6 feet (or taller!)
Sweet Peas like regular moisture and shade for their "feet", or mulch around the bases of the plants.

As Sweet Peas bloom, be sure to pick them! The more you snip, the more they'll bloom. If you don't, the plant will begin to go to seed and you won't see or smell very many flowers. Watch out for seed pods - cut them off, unless you are at the end of the growing season and want to save seeds for the next year. It is also beneficial to cut off some of the foliage when you cut flowers as this will encourage more branching, more growth, and more lovely blooms.


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