The Spencer varieties were originally developed by Silas Cole, head gardener for the Earl of Spencer at Althorp (the family of Diana, Princess of Wales).
Spencer types have much larger, wonderfully ruffled upper or 'standard' petals, longer lower 'wing' petals and much showier blossoms overall. They come in a wide range of colours and have large flowers with four to five blooms to a stem and are the first choice for exhibitors. New varieties are introduced every year, usually bred by keen amateurs. Some of these new varieties quickly establish themselves as show winners but all will give a wonderful display in any garden.
Lathyrus odoratus 'Blue Velvet' is one of the Spencer Varieties. It has beautiful deep blue blooms of ruffled petals, making it a delightful garden addition in any garden. It is highly recommended for exhibition and for the cutting garden.
Spencer varieties are perhaps the most popular types of sweet peas, satisfying amateur gardeners and exhibitors alike with their large, scented and colourful flowers with ruffled petals. They are a good compromise for gardeners who would rather not choose between flower and fragrance.
Planting and growing does not involve any special mystery and the sweet pea is one of the least demanding of garden plants in many respects. The strong stems may be trained as cordons on canes for high-quality blooms, or allowed to scramble freely to make a colourful screen.
Germination of sweet pea seed is often quicker and more uniform if the seeds are soaked in water for 24 hours prior to sowing. This also enables you to identify any seeds with hard coats, which fail to swell during this period. These should have the seedcoat nicked with a small file to enable them to take up water. A temperature of 18 - 20°c will give rapid, even germination. As soon as the seedlings have emerged, they need to be grown as cool, and with as much light, as possible.
If you have a reliable source of John Innes seed compost, or for spring sowing John Innes No 1 potting compost, these will be eminently satisfactory for sweet peas. J.I. Nos 2 & 3 are too strong for seed sowing and should be avoided. We use a good quality peat based seed compost which has given consistently good results.
Sow in Autumn to Early Winter into rootrainers or long thin pots.
Push 2 well spaced seeds about 2.5cm below the compost surface. When roots fill rootrainers, pot on two seedlings into a 2 litre pot. Pinch out the tips when plants have 3 or 4 pairs of leaves. Over-winter undercover in a light, cool place.
Plant out - 2 plants to a vertical - in a mild spell in March. Tie them in every week to encourage straight stems. Can also be sown in Mar/April and planted out in April/May
Sweet peas can also be sown direct into the open ground where they are to flower. The best time for this in the UK is mid March to early April, depending on the weather and the locality. Sow 2 - 3" apart, about 1 - 2" deep and thin the resulting plants to an average of 6-8" apart. Slugs and mice can be a real problem on a direct sown crop, so take suitable precautions before you sow.
Sites for Sweet Peas:
Choose an open site which gets plenty of direct sunlight, but which has some shelter from the worst winds. Avoid planting close to an established hedge or where there will be competition from tree roots.
Young seedlings can be prone to disease if over watered, but once the crop is in full growth, a copious supply of water is needed. A well prepared site will pay dividends by having considerable reserves of available moisture. It is essential to encourage early establishment and a strong root system if high quality flowers are to be achieved.
Feeding: Balanced fertilisers are safest, particularly tomato feed. Never apply heavy dressings of fertiliser to weakly growing plants - invalids need gentle coaxing back to health. Foliar feeding can be useful for plants with root problems, but frequent sprays of very dilute fertiliser will be needed to have a significant effect.
Flowering: Autumn sown in late May. Spring sown in early summer. Keep picking as often as you can. Flower production: 2-3 months Vase life: 4-5 days
If you are interested in the growing of sweet peas, why not join “The Eckford Sweet Pea Society of Wem” Named after Henry Eckford of Wem who began work on the flower in about 1876. it is dedicated to the conservation and promotion of these varieties. For details, send an s.a.e. to the Membership Secretary, Lyndale Nook Farm, Weston-under-Redcastle, Nr. Shrewsbury, Shropshire, SY4 5LP.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 2.5 grams Average Seed Count 30 Seeds Family Leguminosae Genus Lathyrus Species Beaujolais Cultivar Air Warden Synonym Spencer Traditional Common Name Sweet Pea Other Common Names sweetpea Hardiness Hardy Annual Flowers June through September Height 200 -250cm (6-8ft) Spread 30cm (12in) Position Full sun, Partial shade Soil Well-drained/light, Clay/heavy, Chalky/alkaline, Dry Notes Time to plant seeds: September to May