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Through the Garden Gate With the Queen of Annuals
“The sweet pea was to find all shores; it had wings to fly to all continents; it had a standard that suited all nations; and its fragrance was like the universal gospel, yea, the sweet prophecy of universal welcome that has been abundantly fulfilled” – Rev. WT Hutchins, 1900
It was the floral sensation of the late Victorian era. Edwardians don’t consider a bridal bouquet complete without them. Gardeners of the 1920s turned to them to provide a gentle relief to the popular straight lines of today. Gardeners east of the Rockies went crazy for them in the 1930s when box cars full of seeds were shipped from California.
The sweet pea has long been enchanted by the colors of its butterfly wings. A strong scent of honey-orange or candy apple stops you in your tracks as it sinks into your memory. Sweet Pea has every intention of tormenting you forever.
Many have fallen under their spell before you. Although believed to have been cultivated since 1665, only six varieties existed in the mid-Victorian era. But both professional gardeners and hobbyists have found their interest in sweet peas. By 1900 the number of castes had increased to 264.
Flowering the sweet pea was a competitive sport in England, and it was no small affair. In 1900 the Sweet Pea Bicentennial Festival, held at London’s Crystal Palace, was a notable event with the arrival of 38,000 bunches of sweet peas. One of the competitive classes called for a hundred bunches, arranged “In the following ten shades: deep blue, sky blue, rich purple, blue and purple striped, brilliant scarlet, carmine and white, pink and rose, scarlet striped, primrose yellow and white; set tastefully with any suitable light foliage, bunches to display in vases .” Ordered another class “Forty eight bunches… in not less than 36 varieties and not more than 3 bunches of one variety.”
Both hobbyists and professionals have tried to do whatever they can for this flower. They now grow in a wide range of climates but are also dwarfed and tall. Their flowers are rough and striped and increased in size and number. Petals are thickened and leaves are lost or reduced.
Despite their constant adaptation, some flowers scream vintage with airy grace. Yet, unlike the expensive romance of vintage clothing, china or jewelry, sweet pea seeds are extremely affordable. At home it is said to improve well-being and increase libido. It is absolutely possible to have a great relationship with them.
The only problem is that now there are so many varieties to choose from that it’s easy to find yourself torn. There are further possibilities for new love.
The Painted Lady Thomas was a favorite of Jefferson. With fragrant pink and white flowers that are smaller and simpler than modern sweet peas, it is more heat tolerant than other cultivars.
It is named after one of the great figures of British gardening, Ellen Ann Wilmot, which is over a century old. Miss Wilmot Features salmon petals. It is an excellent choice for areas with short springs because it continues to bloom even as temperatures rise.
Cupid, introduced in California in 1895, created a sensation as the first dwarf breed. Once the pink and white version was developed, Burpee paid $1500 for the entire stock of 1068 seeds. Now with colors varying from white to deep purple, Cupid is small and bushy. Only modest and heat and drought tolerant, it is perfect in a container.
America It is unique because of its crimson-red striped ivory flowers. First offered in the US in 1896, it is highly aromatic and stands four feet tall.
Lady Grissell Hamilton, first bred in 1895, each stem bears three to four hooded, lavender blooms. A grandiflora, it looks delicate and is very fragrant.
Lord NelsonFrom 1907, strongly scented with rich, navy blue blossoms.
I hear you are growing fond of this annual queen, but I think you want the yellow sweet pea. Alas, that remains an elusive goal. Many tried. Some have come close yet have their hearts broken. Yellow varieties have no fragrance.
Sweet peas without fragrance? No interest. No romance. One can grow ornamental cabbage as well.
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