I 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.
Amongst 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.