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Graham Rice's New Plants Blog

Graham Rice Garden writer and plantsman Northamptonshire and Pennsylvania

Editor-in-Chief of the RHS Encyclopedia of Perennials; writer for a wide range of newspapers and magazines including The Garden and The Plantsman; member of the RHS Herbaceous Plant Committee and Floral Trials Committee; author of many books on plants and gardens.

  • Date Joined: 18 Oct 2006

Sweet pea ‘Almost Black’: New for autumn 2011

Posted by Graham Rice on 17 Oct 2011 at 09:04 AM

Sweet pea 'Almost Black' - unique new colouring. Image ©Keith HammettFor over a hundred years, since the first heyday of the sweet pea, varieties with very dark flowers have been sought after. As long ago as 1898 the great Henry Eckford introduced ‘Black Knight’, described as having a “bold, upright dark bronzey chocolate standard; some say shiny marone, wings a little more purple…; one of the best, if not the best, of all the very dark varieties....”

Since then new varieties have appeared both in the old fashioned Grandiflora style and in the ruffled style of the Spencer sweet pea. Now a leading breeder of sweet peas from New Zealand, Dr Keith Hammett, has created a new one with a unique background. Keith named it ‘Almost Black’, with the New Zealand rugby team, the All Blacks, in mind.

“What more appropriate colour could a Kiwi want?” Keith told me. “The flowers are small and unwaved like ancestral sweet peas, which adds to the intensity of colour. They do appear black under artificial lights and when used in a vase with other colours.” They are also sweetly scented.

“The initial cross was made twenty years ago in the 1991/1992 season (Southern Hemisphere),” said Keith. “The female parent was 'Mrs Collier' and Lathyrus belinensis was the pollen parent. The resulting hybrid was crossed with wild collected L. odoratus.

“In subsequent seasons two further crosses were made to different sweet pea cultivars, thus restoring desirable characteristics of the modern sweet pea while preserving the unique colouring. I released it as 'Almost Black', a most appropriate name here in New Zealand especially with the World Rugby Cup in full swing.”

You can order sweet pea ‘Almost Black’ direct from its raiser, Keith Hammett, or from these seed suppliers: Chiltern Seeds, English Sweet Peas, Nicky's Nursery, Owl's Acree Sweet Peas, Roger Parsons, Sarah Raven and Unwins Seeds.

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