Growing the wild sweet pea

August 6th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

The wild sweet pea, Lathyrus odoratus

This summer, I’ve been growing the wild sweet pea. Yes, this is the very hard to find, original wild species, Lathyrus odoratus, native to Sicily, and un-improved and un-messed around with. It’s proved both delightful and surprising.

The flowers are exactly as I expected. They’re small, about 4cm high, but richly coloured. The standards, the upright petals at the back, are velvety maroon while the wings, are deep violet. In general, it looks like a slightly smaller flowered version of what we now grow as ‘Cupani’ or ‘Matucana’.

Only one or two flowers are produced on each short stem but they were the first of all my spring sown sweet peas to flower, in late May, and are still going strong as I write in early August.

Then, of course, there’s the scent. I have to say that although the scent is good, it’s not as powerful as that of, say, ‘Gwendoline’ and ‘Hi Scent’ growing nearby. And I noticed that the fragrance of the flowers on some individual plants is stronger than that on others.

The stems are short, the stalks of the small leaves are also short, the leaves themselves are small and sometimes with only two leaflets, and the plants themselves are short because the internodes, the length of stem between the leaves, are also short so the whole plant is compressed. Although the well-drained soil is good, and they were watered once or twice in long dry spells, they came into flower at about 40cm high and are now only about 85cm high.

They’ve been deadheaded almost every day, which has been crucial in keeping the flowers coming, but when deadheading was missed for a few days the developing seed pods looked unusually hairy.

So, is it worth growing? Well, yes. It’s very satisfying to grow the true wild sweet pea and a short, long-flowering, scented climber in these rich colours is very useful both in the garden and in a small vase. It would also be good tumbling out of a large container. So I’m going to stop deadheading now, collect the seed and sow it in the autumn for next year.

And it’s on trial at the Mr F trial ground, so it may be in the catalogue in a year or two.

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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