Skip to main content

Sweet Peas: Admire the Flowers or Eat the Peas?

Sweet peas bloom in my birth month (April) -- and I love them. I love the soft colors, the complex flowers, the scent and the seasonality.

This year, when someone asked me for a birthday present idea, I said, "How about some sweet peas?"

I was standing in a farmer's market staring at buckets of bundled blossoms. A bouquet of sweet peas was what I had in mind. The delivered gift was a half dozen sweet pea plants tightly rolled in newspaper pots.

I just got them planted in the garden at the edges of the knitted trellis. They'll be fighting onions for ground space.  We don't have the soaker hoses set up yet so they will be at the mercy of whoever mans the watering can.

Will they bloom this late? Do they make edible legumes?

I've learned that sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) are native to the eastern Mediterranean from Sicily east to Crete.

But it was a Scottish nurseryman Henry Eckford who turned them from a sweetly scented but visually insignificant flower to the darling of the Victorians. While the native plants are mainly purple, Eckford helped create plants with flowers in red, pink, blue, white and lavender.

So admiring the flowers is clearly in order . . .

As for eating, that's a darker tale.  Unlike traditional table peas, sweet peas have poisonous seeds if eaten in large enough quantities. Symptoms include paralysis, weakness, inability to move the lower limbs and emaciation of the gluteal (butt) muscles. The sweet pea-specific form of this condition  affects the bones and connecting tissues, causing hernias, aortic dissection and skeletal deformities. It has symptoms similar to scurvy or copper deficiency.

Despite their impact on health, sweet peas were a model organism for the study of genetics. Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics, actually used a different variety, but pioneer geneticist Reginald Punnett used sweet peas. It's ideal for research because it self-pollinates and has characteristics such as color, height and petal form that can be easily tracked.

So for my final question: Will my gift plants ever bloom?

Yes, if the weather stays cool.  But heat wipes out the blossoms.  They like rich soil, monthly feedings with a high-potassium fertilizer and regular water. Blood meal added to the soil is believed to help keep the stems long and suitable for cutting.

I suspect I should have had an earlier birthday or more foresighted friends to actually get a bouquet of sweet peas from this experience.

But with the passage of another year, I'm learning that positive expectations -- however deluded -- rarely have bad impacts.

Popular posts from this blog

Hand-Knit Trellis Now Ready for Climbing Foot-Long Beans

Just as the "June" gloom is starting to burn off, I finished my knitted trellis for the garden.

It completely surrounds one of our bamboo tripods, with space at the bottom for tending the romaine lettuces growing within the tripod.

It's knit out of nylon twine on US 35 needles. While the nylon has no stretch (the way a wool yarn does), the huge gauge has loads of give. The piece was knit flat with ties attached along one edge.  It is tied to the tripod along one leg.

One some early samples for a knitted plant trellis, I experimented with lace patterns.  They look lovely, but I realized two things. One, once the plants grow up the trellis any knitting pattern is lost. Secondly, the plants and leaves need space to grow in and out of.

I used a pattern for a shawl: k1, yo, k2tog and then repeat. I got lost a number of times: the yarn-overs drifted over other stitches on occasion. As this was a speed project that won't be visible ones the beans grow over it, I didn't w…

Tomato cages for determined vines

Last summer’s tumbling tower of tomatoes has made me rethink the standard tomato cage.  They are great for determinate tomatoes that grow like shrubs. They are useless for indeterminant tomatoes that spread out like a thoroughbred on the home stretch.

A search for alternatives led me to discover these ideas:

My new favorite cauliflower recipe

We've had a couple of glorious weeks of sunshine that caused the cauliflowers to race right into the bolting stage. They've all been harvested and eaten.  We're just waiting for some spare time to take out the leaves and stems to make room for something new in the garden.

Karen and I have slightly different perspectives on what to plant: she likes novelty -- rainbow or watermelon radishes or purple or gold cauliflower; I'm more of a traditionalist; the novelty varieties never seem to turn out as well as the originals.