Sow sweet peas for fragrance


October 9, 2003


Victoria County Master Gardener Intern


For all of you gardeners who like fragrant flowers, my choice for you is an old-fashioned charmer, the sweet pea. Fond memories of my childhood include a drive through Yorktown with my father to view the beautiful sweet peas intertwined on a fence at the edge of town.


The smile on my precious father's face as he delighted in the beautiful array of colors made me realize how truly sweet these flowers are. He would reminisce of the "good ol' days" when he would get up at 5 a.m. to help his German grandmother make sure that her garden was weed-free and that the sidewalks were pristine clean. His favorite memory was the beautiful fragrance radiating from her colorful sweet peas.



The scientific Latin name chosen by Linnaeus for the sweet pea is Lathyrus odoratus. This popularly known "Queen of Annuals" was first introduced into England in 1699. With more than 1,000 varieties, they have become one of the favorite flowers of the United Kingdom and are widely grown in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Scotland and the United States. This hardy annual thrives in cool weather. Colors include shades of blue, cream, pink, purple and white. Non-vining varieties will grow up to 2 feet tall. Vining varieties can grow from 5 to 7 feet or more.


Sweet peas are grown from seed. Many people soak their seeds for 24 hours to hasten germination. When possible, plant rows in a north-south direction for best sun exposure and good air circulation. Plant seeds about 1/2- to 1-inch deep spaced 4 inches apart. Sweet pea vines grow and cling with curly tendrils just like edible vegetable podded peas, snow peas and sugar snaps; however the flowering sweet pea is poisonous. If trying to get your small children to eat green peas, don't let them be confused by the tempting sweet pea. Once germinated, they prefer full sun, cool weather and rich moist soil. Ideally, the ground temperature should be 55-65 degrees consistently to aid in germination.


In varieties with hard seed coats, the seeds need to be chipped with a sharp knife on the opposite side of the eye. Care must be taken not to damage the white tissue underneath the seed coat. Blooms will appear 8-10 weeks from germination. They need to be trained on strings, trellises, wires, poles or whatever you choose to allow them to climb on. They are perfect for hiding a chain link fence, use as a bank groundcover or trailing over rock walls. To keep the flowers blooming, pick spent blooms before the seed pod begins to form. One cluster of the elegant blooms will perfume a room. Enjoy the bouquets until the heat of summer returns. Sowing season is from late October to early February. Check with your grandmother, gardening friend or a local garden center to find out when they have had the best luck in getting their seeds started.



Poet John Keats (1795-1821) writes:


"Here are Sweet Peas on tiptoe for a flight,


With wings of gentle flush or delicate white,


And taper fingers catching at all things


To bind them all about with tiny wings.


Give peas a chance. Add vining sweet peas to your heirloom garden, provide something for them to climb on, and they will rapidly ascend skyward. How sweet it is to watch them grow. Enjoy the fragrance.


While we are talking about beautiful flowers, let me remind all of you gardeners out there that it is once again time to enter your prized garden treasures in the 2003 Garden Expo. The Expo is coordinated by the Victoria County Master Gardener Association as a part of the 2003 South Texas Farm & Ranch Show at the Victoria Community Center on Oct. 21-22. Classification categories for your entries include Container Plants, Cut Flowers, Field Crops, Garden Crops, Home Products and Orchard Crops. Contact the Victoria County Extension office at 361-575-4581 for rules and guidelines.