Sweet Peas remind me of an old-fashioned garden which I once knew in which everything looked 'natural' - there was no grand plan. They were the only flowers in this divine garden which were trained in any form - and they just had a piece of chicken wire beside the front steps.
And sure enough, every spring out they came, entwining their tendrils around the wire for another annual show. There was virtually no care needed at all, apart from water. But the Spring and Summer rains seemed to have that covered.
Their botanical name is 'Lathyrus odorata' . They are true annuals which can reach 2 metres - 6 feet - if they have enough to support. The tendrils will twine around any support - very pretty entwined around other plants.
If the climate is very cold, this type will have to be replanted each spring, but they will come up anyway if the climate is warm.
In my family the seeds were always replanted for each spring. So they were definitely true annuals. The sweet peas in the garden I described did not need any help at all - hence, they were the perennials (Lathyrus latifolia). Other names for this type are the perennial peavine, perennial pea or everlasting pea.
No wonder it is called 'everlasting'. It has the ability to grow from seeds as well as underground from its tap root and rhizomes. It can tolerate frosts and is long-lived and spreads slowly over time. This perennial type has less fragrance than the annual form (L. odorata).
Just give me something to climb on.
There are over 40 different types of Lathyrus which have been given the Award of Garden Merit by the Horticultural Society. That's quite a lot, but there are about 160 species, originally native to the Mediterranean. They have a very long flowering period - from late spring until autumn in cooler regions because they don't like too much heat.
Sweet Peas belong to the legume family (Fabaceae), just like the vegetable kind, but may be toxic. So whilst we can eat a garden pea, it's not a good idea to eat the sweet pea seeds.
(Other legumes include alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, lentils, soybeans and peanuts. Legumes have nitrogen-fixing bacteria which help enrich the soil and therefore, the plant).
When thinking about them for your garden, it is a good idea to remember that the old-fashioned varieties have the most fragrance, and whilst newer varieties offer the colours, they are less likely to have the full scented blooms.
Also, make sure they have the right support - chicken wire, bamboo or wooden stake, anything, because these beauties can climb to 8 feet. Make the most of them!
What a lucky find. A whole website devoted to Sweet Peas.