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Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, 47 acres of botanical bliss fronting the Pacific Ocean

Sweet Peas

Fragrant and floriferous!

Botanical Name: Lathyrus odoratus, L. latifolis Common Name: Sweet Pea Family name: Fabaceae (Leguminosae) 

Description: For color, fragrance, long-bloom season, pest and disease resistance, sweet peas are among the most successful of flowers for Mendocino area cottage style gardens. The European perennial, L. latifolius is a hardy vine. It's bluish green foliage and lavender, pink and white flowers are often seen naturalized along roadside banks. L. odoratus, a Mediterranean Native, is available in numerous bush and climbing varieties that thrive from winter through spring and summer in the mild coastal zone.

Strong-growing vines and bush varieties bear a profusion of colorful 1-1/2" flowers in the typical form of the pea family. One large, upright petal, two narrow side petals, and two lower petals combine to form a rounded shape. As suggested by its name, L. odoratus, is noted for its powerful fragrance. Richly scented heirloom varieties range from sweet to spicy. Clusters of blossoms come in single and mixed colors including pinks, white, deep rose, blue, scarlet, salmon and bicolors such as the rose and white 18th century 'Painted Lady.' Bush varieties grow 8" to 3' while vining types can reach heights of 5-10 feet.

Varieties: Early flowering 'Spencer' varieties may be planted in late summer for winter bloom. Spring and summer flowering types benefit from fall or winter planting, but will not bloom until approximately mid-June when days have lengthened to 15 hours or more. To maintain continuous bloom throughout much of the year, choose several varieties with different temperature needs and tuck in new seeds as old vines wither.

Cultivation: Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil. When planting vining varieties protect from wind and prepare an adequate trellis or string supports prior to planting. On a wall, allow space for air circulation to minimize the risk of powdery mildew. The taller bush varieties also benefit from the support of a low trellis or a row of twiggy branches. Dress year-around beds with additional composted manure as new seedlings emerge. Sweet peas require moderate water and little on-going care when planted in rich, well-drained soil.

Propagation: Soak seeds overnight and nick any that have not cracked slightly. Dig a trench, 1-1 ½ feet deep and enrich soil, as needed with ample amount of garden compost, composted manure, peat moss and/or a complete fertilizer; keep soil mounded at edge to fill in as plants grow. Plant 1" deep and 2-3" apart. When seedlings are 4-5" tall, thin to at least 6" apart. Seedlings transplant easily to form an evenly spaced row or to tuck in other garden locations. Protect young seedlings from birds, snails and slugs. Keep soil moist until plants are established, then mulch and water as needed to maintain vigor.

Common Problems: Protect seedlings from birds, snails and slugs and provide good air circulation to discourage powdery mildew. Foliar spraying with a weak manure tea will discourage aphids which may transmit disease. Sources: Site provides growing tips and an extensive catalog of English 'Spencer' varieties propagated in Sebastopol, CA. Site provides a wide variety of seeds, including sweet pea varieties with varying temperature needs. Excellent, extensively illustrated site. Sunset Western Garden Book. Copyright 2007 Sunset Publishing Corporation, Menlo Park, CA 94025

Submitted by Master Gardener Wendy Roberts, 2007.