Gardeners Chronicle & New Horticulturist, n.s.18(449) 182-183 (Aug 5, 1882)

Sweet Peas
R. D.

PROBABLY no other common flower is so useful in the garden during summer as the Sweet Pea, and it is as indispensable to it as Mignonette; and yet, while it is so useful and so commonly grown, it appears to escape, to a considerable extent, the attention of writers. Perhaps it is assumed that nothing that is fresh can be written about it, and yet new varieties occasionally come into cultivation, and they are of undoubted novelty and quality; but as they are so seldom met with in gardens, they appear to gain a footing there but very slowly. Formerly we had but few varieties of Sweet Peas, now they have grown into something like thirteen or fourteen varieties, every one of which well deserves a place in the garden.

It is nearly two centuries ago that the Sweet Pea was introduced from Sicily. In all probability the original form has been considerably improved upon, and it has either sported into new forms, or yielded them by means of seed. In later years new varieties have been obtained in this way:—Among the plants raised from seed of any one variety, a new departure has been discovered in the case of a plant or two. Those whose practice it is to grow from seeds largely are aware of the tendency in many annuals to break into different characters, and when one appears it is marked, the surrounding plants are pulled out to give the new type space in which to develope itself, and the seed is carefully gathered and sown for another season. Sports of this kind are often very difficult to fix in a permanent character; they will appear for a year or two or more, as if they would do so, and then they will revert to their original form, to the great disappointment of the cultivator. On the other hand, such sports can be permanently fixed after a few years’ selection, and when the durability of the new character is assured the variety can be sold in the ordinary way.

Let us endeavour to set forth in descriptive form, as nearly as it can be done, the various sorts of sweet Peas in cultivation. Taking first the purple We get an exceedingly bright and attractive variety with a crimson standard, as the upper part of the flower is termed, with very pleasing blue-violet wings. If only three varieties were grown this should be one of them, for the blue-violet tint on the wings is most attractive. The purple-striped, as the striped form of this is termed, has the standard and wings much streaked and spotted with white; but while the striped forms afford variety, they are scarcely so pleasing to the eye as the self-coloured flowers. The scarlet Sweet Pea has a standard of a deep scarlet or red hue, the wings being paler and brighter in colour, approaching magenta, with a white keel; indeed, the white keel appears to be characteristic of all the varieties. The scarlet Invincible is a larger and finer selection of this, being more intense in colour in all its parts. It is now much grown for cutting, indeed, more so than any other variety, because of its fine appearance. The scarlet Invincible has striped forms also, in which pencillings of white are thrown across all the parts of the flower. Whether the black Sweet Pea was derived from the purple, or vice versa, the black so-called has a maroon crest and deep purple wings, but it is not so bright in appearance as the purple. But a tendency to become purple will be found among the black, and to become black among the purple; in fact they are apt to run into each other, and need rigid selection to keep them true to character. The Painted Lady is a very pretty and distinct Sweet Pea, the standards scarlet, and the wings white. This variety, too, should have a place in every collection. We have seen in Messrs. Carter & Co.’s collection a very fine striped form of the black Sweet Pea, in which the dark standards and the deep purple-blue wings are striped with white, and this is very pretty indeed, and may not materially differ from the ordinary striped form of the black. The white is well known from being perfectly white in all its parts; it is an exceedingly attractive variety, and like the scarlet Invincible is highly grown for cutting from. What is known as Sutton’s Butterfly, is a white flower tinted in the most pleasing manner with delicate lilac-blue on the margin of the standards and wings, changing with age to deep lilac. It originated as a sport among some white Sweet Peas at Messrs. Sutton & Sons’ trial grounds at Reading, and it is also known in catalogues as the blue-edged. Fairy Queen appears to have been another sport from the white variety, the standards and wings being white, flaked with rose. This is a very pleasing variety indeed, and quite distinct in character. Crown Princess of Prussia, which we believe to be another of Messrs. Carter & Co.’s raising, is also a very pretty and distinct variety, the crest salmon-pink, the wings delicately tinted with pink, quite novel, and deserving to be generally grown. The Queen has the standards scarlet feathered with white on the edges, something in the way of a Tulip that is so marked, and with pencillings of the same in the centre, the wings slightly flaked with bright rosy violet; this is also very attractive and novel, and with Violet Queen, now to be described, originated at the St. Osyth seed farms, and, we should think, in both cases came up as sports from Painted Lady. Violet Queen has lovely rosy-pink standards, with bright pale violet wings, and is very fine in appearance and novel in character. There yet remains the yellow Sweet Pea, which is not much grown, and which, no doubt, represents a cream-coloured form of the white; and, if this be so, it can scarcely be depended on for fixity of character.

An enormous quantity of Sweet Peas is every year grown for the trade. A wholesale house like that of Messrs. Hurst & Son, of Houndsditch, grows every year from 25 to 30 acres of Sweet Peas, but the produce is very variable. Last year, owing to the weather, there were many total failures; but a good average season and crop should produce about 20 bushels per acre, but this is seldom realised. Messrs. Carter, Dunnett & Beale grow large breadths of the different varieties of Sweet Peas at their St. Osyth seed farms, some sorts more largely than others, according as they are in demand, and there must be very heavy sales of Sweet Peas. Messrs. Hurst & Son put their annual sales at about 300 bushels, and the seeds are grown chiefly in Kent and Essex. The greater quantity is grown as mixed colours, separate colours being required only in comparatively small quantities.

Of late years Sweet Peas have come to be much grown for supplying cut blooms for market, the scarlet Invincible and the white in particular being cultivated for this purpose, as well as in mixed colours. A hedge of Sweet Peas of mixed colours is a very pretty sight indeed in any garden, and diffuses a most agreeable fragrance. The scarlet Invincible in conjunction with Tropaeolum canariense is a charming combination, as delightful as it is novel. A garden without Sweet Peas is a garden without one of the most useful of flowers that can find a place in it. R. D.