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Graham Rice on Trials

Updates on trials and awards from the Royal Horticultural Society by Graham Rice

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The season's first sweet peas

Posted by Graham Rice on 05 Jun 2009 at 08:39 PM

Sweet pea 'Aunt Jane'. Image: ©GardenPhotos.comI love sweet peas, in fact I like them so much I wrote a whole book about them, and I'm always eager for the first ones to come into flower. Picking the first few stems for the house is always a sign that summer is really here.

So I was pleased to be able to look over the sweet pea trial at Wisley just as the first varieties were coming into flower and to make a note of those that produce the first stems for picking. Out of grand total of sixty two varieties in the trial, these were the first to produce at least one stem suitable for cutting. ‘Aunt Jane', a pale magenta from Dave Matthewman; ‘Toby Robinson', from Kerton Sweet Peas, in white with purple veining and already an AGM winner and ‘Gerry Cullinan', also from Kerton Sweet Peas, a lavender which was a star last year. Three as yet unnamed entries to the trial, two from National Collection holder Roger Parsons (who has 950 varieties in his collection!) were also pickable.

It'll be interesting to see if these varieties also finish flowering early or if they have the staying power to last as long as the rest.

Also just getting going down on the trials field are some relatives of the sweet peas amongst the one hundred and thirty two varieties being grown in the most extensive trial of annual climbers ever seen. There's a number of other annual climbing species and varieties of Lathyrus, a group of plants which is undeservedly passed as everyone focuses on the sweet peas, and sixteen of these are included.

Lathyrus clymenum 'Articulatus'. Image: ©Ailson Cundy/RHSAmongst the first of these to open were Lathyrus clymenum 'Articulatus', with attractive bicoloured red and white flowers and the shorter but sparkling blue Lathyrus sativus 'Azureus'. Neither are as valuable as cut flowers as the familiar sweet peas but scrambling through low shrubs, especially when sown in the autumn in Mediterranean style gardens, they can really add a naturalistic look to the garden.

The sweet pea trial will be well worth looking at for the nest few weeks, while the many lovely annual climbers on display will be worth a look right through till the autumn.



Digger said:

Were these early flowering sweet peas sown last Autumn?

on 05 Jun 2009 at 09:08 PM

Graham Rice said:

I'm pretty sure they were all sown in early spring - but I'll check when the office at Wisley opens again on Monday morning.

on 05 Jun 2009 at 10:05 PM

Digger said:

Thanks, it would be good to know, I know Wisley is at the bottom of the country but I've had no success with Autumn sowings up in Lancashire.

on 05 Jun 2009 at 10:16 PM

SydH said:

Digger - Graham's right - early Spring has been the Sweet Pea sowing time at Wisley for a few years now.  

For best help for next season, you could get in touch with Ray Barlow, the NSPS district representative for Lancashire, who lives at 246 Strand Lane, Radcliffe, Manchester, M26 1JP.  Or you could ring me for a quick response - 028 713 01 280, or email

on 06 Jun 2009 at 12:47 PM