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Home Blog FLOWER FOCUS: My favorite Sweet Peas
December 31st 2013

FLOWER FOCUS: My favorite Sweet Peas

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Floret

Floret Flower Farm Sweet Peas

If you are a seed catalog hoarder like I am, then you’ll certainly know the trouble that can be made during the long, dark days of January and February. It seems that every trip to the mail box brings at least one more glossy new temptation. I get so many catalogs that they usually make up at least a two foot stack on the end of my desk.

Sweet Pea Erewhon

Sweet Pea ‘Erewhon’

Boy oh boy do those seed companies know how to tempt a flower lover! Romantic descriptions, gorgeous photos and the words “new this year” scrolled across in red. Every winter, my best laid plans get tossed out the window as I go hog wild with another round of new garden additions.

Sweet Pea Windsor

Sweet Pea ‘Windsor’

One way I try and hide this crazy cycle from myself and others (ahem..Chris) is by putting on trials. If I can say there is a trial underway then I have a perfectly good excuse for buying every single variety on the market of a certain family of plants.

Floret Flower Farm Sweet Peas

Last summer I grew 66 different cockscombs, 20+ ornamental peppers and over three dozen different sweet peas. This aproach makes for CRAZY record keeping but really does transforms the sometimes dull toil of being a flower farmer into a much more exciting adventure.

sweetpea1

Take the heirloom types for example, they come is some incredible color variations and their scent is off the charts but their stems are generally quite short, pretty thin and they just don’t make the cut if you’re growing for the professional floral trade.

Cupani, America and Painted Lady are all great examples of this group. While beautiful, they really make better garden plants than cut flowers for market.

Sweet Pea Erewhon

Sweet Pea ‘Erewhon’

 

Sweet Pea Erewhon
sweetpea2

Here in the states it can be a bit tricky to track down the right types. If you’re a commercial grower you’ve likely tried the Mammoth and Winter Elegance mixes. Both of these are inexpensive, available through large seed brokers like Gloeckner and grow well enough. But if you really want to blow the socks off of yourself and everyone else, then a little more digging is in order.

Sweet Pea Erewhon

Sweet Pea ‘Erewhon’

 

Floret sweet pea mix bluesUPDATE:  The Floret Shop is now loaded with lots of previously hard-to-find sweet pea seeds.

If you are in the UK, be sure to check out Owl Acre Sweet Peas. Mark Rowland, the owner, has done an incredible job both in the flower varieties he’s bred and made available and the information he provides on the site. He’s generously helped me along my journey many times and I totally adore doing business with him!

Before I was able to source my own seed, I relied upon Enchanting Sweet Peas in California. Their selection is great, their customer service remarkable and they are an all around great company!

 

Sweet Peas (left to right): Dynasty, Windsor, Nimbus, Eclipse, Enchante, Erewhon

Sweet Peas (left to right): Dynasty, Windsor, Nimbus, Eclipse, Enchante, Erewhon 

There are three main blooming groups you’ll want to keep in mind when it comes to sweet peas. Group 1 are the winter types {Winter Elegance and Winter Sunshine ) which flower first, around 10 hours of daylight. These can be brought into flower by Christmas in warmer, southern parts of the country like Texas and California or in other toasty spots on the planet like S. Africa, Australia or Japan. Here in my cool northern garden (47th latitude) they only really get cranking in the unheated greenhouse by late April.

Sweet Peas: Eclipse, Enchante, Oban Bay

Sweet Peas: Eclipse, Enchante, Oban Bay

If you have a hoop house available and want to get an earlier jump on the season, then I HIGHLY recommend the Winter Sunshine Series.   Stem length is off the chart, there is beautiful range of colors and they are really quite vigorous for winter types. Navy, the dark purple variety will leave you weak in the knees.

Sweet Peas (left) Restormel and Valerie Harrod (right) armload of my favorites

Sweet Peas (left) Restormel and Valerie Harrod (right) armload of my favorites

Midseason grandiflora varieties (Mammoths and Spring Sunshine Series) will begin to flower around 12 hours of daylight and bloom roughly two weeks after the winter types here in my patch. Spring Sunshine Champagne is by far the most exquisite of the lot. A pale creamy blush, the exact shade every bride is wanting right now will leave your floral customers fighting each other for the last stems.

Sweet Peas: (front to back): Mollie Rilstone, Valerie Harrod, Restormel, Dynsaty, Windsor

Sweet Peas: (front to back): Mollie Rilstone, Valerie Harrod, Restormel, Dynsaty, Windsor

 

Sweet Peas (left to right): Windsor, Valerie Harrod, Enchante, Dynasty, Erewhon, Oban Bay

Sweet Peas (left to right): Windsor, Valerie Harrod, Enchante, Dynasty, Erewhon, Oban Bay

Lastly are the Spencer varieties which start flowering between 13-15 daylight hours. While the latest to bloom, this group is by far the most popular worldwide.

The Spencer’s are heat tolerant, produce abundant long stems, come in a dizzying rainbow of colors and are probably are the easiest of all the groups to grow. With so many wonderful quantities, it’s no wonder they make up the majority of all exhibition sweet peas shown in England.

Sweet Peas: Restormel and Valerie Harrod

Sweet Peas: Restormel and Valerie Harrod

If you are growing your blooms outdoors, live in an area that has a short spring or just want to be wildly successful the first time out of the gate, then the Spencer’s are your ticket.

All varieties pictured in this post are Spencer’s.

Sweet Peas: Mollie Rilstone, Valerie Harrod, Restormel, Dynasty, Windsor

Sweet Peas: Mollie Rilstone, Valerie Harrod, Restormel, Dynasty, Windsor

 

sweet pea mix Floret Flower Farm

I’ve cultivated so many Spencer’s that it’s hard to keep them all straight but over the years I still find myself relying on 15 or so exceptional varieties to carry the crop through while I weave in new additions here and there.

This list is in no way meant to limit the possibilities. If you have a hankering for sweet peas, seriously, grow every dang variety that you can get your hands on or afford! But if you need some tried and true varieties, that have consistent bud set, vigorous plant grown, long stems, rich color and good fragrance then do consider giving this lot a go.

sweet pea sorting Floret
Floret Flower Farm’s favorite sweet peas:

Nimbus (my #1 favorite!)
Mollie Rilstone
Restormel
Windsor
Dynasty
Ethel Grace
Valerie Harrod
Happy Birthday
Eclipse
Oban Bay
Our Harry
Jilly
Anniversary
Gwendoline
White Supreme

New additions that show real promise:
Erewhon
Enchante

Sweet Peas (back row): Valerie Harrod, Oban Bay, Enchante, Our Harry (front row): Windsor, Dynasty, Mollie Rilstone, White Supreme, Nimbus, Dark Passion

Sweet Peas (back row): Valerie Harrod, Oban Bay, Enchante, Our Harry (front row): Windsor, Dynasty, Mollie Rilstone, White Supreme, Nimbus, Dark Passion

 

Later this week we’ll dig into the nitty gritty growing tricks that will ensure a long stemmed, super healthy crop of flowers, the kind that will make you the talk of the town!

P.S. I’d love to know what your favorite sweet pea varieties are! Seed catalogs are flooding in and it’s just about time to start making some more trouble.

34 Comments

  1. Lina Herzer on

    What a beautiful and informative site. I love all the pics.
    I am wondering if you let your sweet peas go to seed at the end of the season or do you buy new seeds every season? If you don’t collect seeds is there a reason why? Lastly, I read somewhere that there is a variety of sweet peas that bloom along the whole vine and not just at the top. would you happen to know which one it is and whether or not they are fragrant. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Tracey Matchett on

      Oh Lina ,please do not save your sweet pea seed. I made that mistake and Wham ,every plant reverted back. By fresh seed each season . Good Luck.

  2. Evonne on

    Can I buy climbing sweet pea flowers from you? My sister loved then & was diagnosed with cancer yesteady.

    Sincerely
    Evonne
    559-513-9678

    Reply
  3. diane on

    I live in Missouri and have 3 big pots and a trellis I want them to climb up,is there a certain kind I should buy?Do I need to replant seeds every year or just bring my plants in for the winter and place back out when frost is gone?Thank you for your help Diane

    Reply
  4. Matt Mattus on

    Erin, I just have to write you and tell you how much I enjoy your blog. As a fellow blogger ( and sweet pea nut, as well as one who likes to grow trials of plants) I totally relate to your passion. Sometimes I whine about not living in the NW, for as a plant lover, New England is hardly a place where one can grow many plants well. As a full time creative director too, I appreciate your fine photography and design sense, particularly your sense of color and how it relates to flowers. Just a brilliant blog! If I am ever in the NW ( my brother lives in Vancouver, WA), I would love to visit and perhaps write a post about your farm. All the best from snowy Mass. – Matt

    Reply
    • Floret on

      Matt, thank you!!!

  5. Cindy on

    Oh my goodness, those photos are insanely wonderful, and so tempting. I think i may die now if i don’t have sweet peas in my garden. They’re so charming!
    Good luck on getting your new tract of land, i have already sent out success vibes to the universe on your behalf!

    Cindy

    Reply
    • Floret on

      Oooooh, Cindy, thank you : )

  6. Dien Hoa on

    Hey Guys,
    Looking so nice pic of flowers . I would like to thanks for providing such useful information for us. I get good knowledge from your web site and i was searching such content and valuable info since long time. Today’s our searching has been completed, we will come back again on your website for gathering some information . Lastly big thanks.

    Reply
  7. VillageRat on

    I am not sure how I stumbled across your blogs but so glad I did.

    Sweet peas and lily of the valley have been my favorites as long as I can remember.

    Lots and lots of memories of these with my grandma and my God mother. (I remember my God Mother complaining that most of NYC (the actual city) had no time in the country as she could not find any sweet peas and no one even knew what they were. (she grew up on one of the islands with parents who ran a nursery/greenhouses).

    Reply
  8. Andrea on

    Sweet peas are where I started too. Unfortunately reading your blog immediately AFTER ordering this year’s sweet peas. Glad to see that some of the ones I have ordered are on your list though. I have also experimented but not up to 66 varieties!

    Reply
  9. Kari on

    Thank you so much for doing this series on sweet peas! My earliest childhood memory is of sitting in a sea pea patch! I haven’t had much luck with them here in Virginia but am hopeful some of your tips will help!

    Reply
  10. Frances on

    I would really like to start sweet peas this year. I experimented with a few flowers last year and need a spring crop. I have searched for long time for sweet pea growing resources. Swallow tail gardens in CA that has a color called watermelon I am thinking about trying. I am in Ohio.

    Reply
    • Frances on

      I made a mistake. The watermelon variety is at Renee’s Garden. Swallow Tail have 32 interesting varieties of sweet peas though.

    • Floret on

      I LOVE the watermelon one from Reene’s. It’s stunning!

  11. Full Bloom Flower Farm on

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I am a huge cock’s comb fan and would love to hear your favorites on those as well from your variety trials.

    Reply
    • Floret on

      Oh, do you worry, I’ll totally dish on the cockscomb trial soon. It was awesome!

  12. sonrie on

    Oh, goodness how I love the flood of seed catalogs in the winter! I have never grown sweet peas but now I want to – thanks for your information!

    Reply
  13. Scott on

    If you could recommend one catalog/website for browsing plants and seeds, which would it be?

    Reply
  14. martin and the magpie on

    Thanks for this info Erin, our first year growing sweets to sell wasn’t great, we had such a cold start to spring and it took ages for them to get going and the stem length was disappointing, have just ordered some of the varieties you recommended so fingers crossed for a better year this year.
    Kay x

    Reply
  15. Ivette on

    Thank you, this info is a great help!
    I grew sweetpeas outside some years ago but this was a failure. Last year I planted some in my hoop house for trial. I picked flowers from May till October!
    Your info will help me to choose new varieties with longer stems. Can’t wait reading your tips and tricks…!

    Reply
    • Floret on

      So glad to hear it!

  16. Rose on

    Thanks for the great advice. Last year my sweet pea was a failure. Maybe this year it will be better. New year: New hopes and dreams. Happy New Year!!

    Reply
  17. Jamie on

    So wanting to try these this year! Anyone know if I have even a hope of a chance of being successful in a harsh zone 5 environment?

    Reply
    • Floret on

      Jamie, Ralph Thurston at Bindweed Farm in ID (super harsh zone 5) has been growing them with great success for years now. He has erected a shade house to grow them in since their farm is in the high dessert. Good luck!

  18. Shelley on

    Erin. Thank you for being generous and sharing this information! I look forward to your other posts this week. We moved to Texas this summer and am anxious to try out growing new things! I have mostly been a vegetable gardener, but want to expand with flowers. Thank you again!

    Reply
  19. Julianna on

    Such great info , I would love to hear your advice on snapdragons and dahlias too!

    Reply
  20. Bethany Karn on

    What a wealth of information! I am so ready to tear up my back yard and start a hoop house right now! Thanks for the great post and have a Happy and Sweet-Smelling New Year!

    Reply
  21. hopflower on

    Ethel Grace is my favourite. And there are many growers in England; Mr Rowland of course, being a great one for sure. Mr Roger Parsons has them too; he is an officer in the Sweet Pea Society.

    As for packages being confiscated: they aren’t. I have ordered form these growers and more for years, and never lost a packet. Lathyrus are not protected species; it is not illegal to sell them in any way.

    Enchanting Sweet Peas orders theirs from English sources as well. But ordering directly from England guarantees fresher seed.

    Reply
  22. gretchen o'neil on

    Amazing shots Erin!! I planted twice as many sweet peas as I did last year, and after scrolling through your post I am kicking myself for not tearing up every available inch of space in the yard to plant even more! New varieties in the ground I am most excited about: Nana K, April in Paris, Borderline, and Burnished Bronze. Need to get my hands on some of those Winter series–sweet peas by Christmas would be amazing.

    Reply

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