It Just Might Be a Sweet Pea Year

  'Painted Lady'
Planting sweet peas is one of a Midwest gardener's biggest gambles. Ok, I'll qualify "Midwest" by narrowing it down to the whole state of Indiana and the southern half of Michigan. In a good year, I can get about a dozen small bouquets from seed sown as early as I can in a spot in the garden that is cooled by shade in the afternoon.

I created a pea-planting area a few years ago that fits the requirements. It's currently under nearly three feet of snow. And that's why I think it might be a sweet pea year. While I'm pretty certain I won't be planting the seeds of sweet peas on St. Paddy's Day as the old wives' tale goes. I see the March 17 date as more of a guideline for a perfect world scenario.

A variety called Cupani, developed in Italy, is said to be more heat-tolerant than the English hybrids. It's impossible for me to tell, as I've only tried sweet peas half a dozen out of 20 or so years of gardening, and don't know if I had success because of the weather or the timing or the placement.


Lathyrus 'Charlie's Angel', a pale blue variety in foreground
I had luck a couple of times by planting them in a big pot into which I'd inserted a tomato cage. It wasn't pretty, but I had a succession of blooms through mid-July.

Another year I planted them in my cutting garden, and they provided me with a modicum of flowers until August.

The type of success achieved by a gardener in hot, humid summer weather is measured by small bouquets, because sweet pea plants aren't all that pretty.

It depends, also, on when the heat hits and how long its first visit lasts. We've had years when its arrival was in early May, remaining through the month to light a fire under the remaining tulips and long-awaited peonies and poppies. Those are not good sweet pea years.
Lathyrus 'Charlie's Angel'

The last time I grew sweet peas was 2012, the year that confounded our memories with record numbers of record-setting high temperatures. Ordered last minute, planted on a whim, I had more success than I'd expected. The first bloom of 'Painted Lady' came on the last day of May, and I had a succession of blooms through the entire month of June. I planted 'Charlie's Angel' a few weeks later than 'Painted Lady' and it provided fewer blooms, the first ones not until mid-June.

I don't remember that it had enough flowers to make a bouquet, likely because of its late planting.

'Painted Lady' sweet peas in a jelly jar enjoyed by a "friend."
Bouquets of sweet peas are so decadent for anyone who gardens in rampant heat and humidity following ridiculously schizophrenic winters and early springs. If you don't have enough sweet peas, they can be mixed with lavender or other small flowers, and brought in to enjoy for a short time.

'Painted Lady' with single gardenia flower, Oso Easy 'Peachy Cream' rose and Clematis recta.


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