Of course, I’ll need to assume that the seeds, which were first soaked overnight in water and planted a week ago,
Next, they’ll have to push up toward the sunlight; morph into itty-bitty tendrils, and then twine around the white wood lattices bought just for them. If the vines turn out to be exceedingly fond of the spot I picked, they might reach
an astonishing height of nine feet.
Finally, and if all goes as intended, I’ll gaze out our dining room window in a few months and see hundreds of blossoms
in hues ranging from deep red to soft pink to pale white. With a bit of luck and the right proportion of sugar to water,
I might even manage to keep a few vases full of the dainty-winged beauties inside the house.
The luminous coloring and honey-like orange blossom fragrance of sweet peas are reason enough to keep them around.
But there are other, more practical details.
These flowers will provide food for the neighborhood hummingbirds, who are most likely to be most drawn to the deep magenta and inky purple tints.
Sweet peas also complement a vegetable garden—we’re bringing in baby tomato plants next week—because they attract bees and other pollinators, which improves crop yield. The vines can also be stir-fried for a delicious side dish, and
if those bouquets inside the house work out, houseflies hate the odor and won’t linger long.
Sweet peas and I have our own history.
I was six years old when I glimpsed my first ones over our backyard fence.
A next-door neighbor had designated several feet of an exterior wall of her house to plant a bunch, where they grew to be nearly as tall as the wall and bloomed for months.
Indeed, she had so many sweet peas—the more they’re cut, the more they flower--that I came home at least once a week with bundles for my teachers.
Eventually I fell in with other flowers, including lavender lilacs and white daisies and yes, pink carnations. However, sweet peas stayed my first love. Indeed, when the time came to create my wedding bouquet, I made certain that a few went down the aisle with me.
Given their popularity, it isn’t surprising that sweet peas were domesticated centuries ago.
Sicilian monk and botanist Father Francis Cupani is credited for discovering the wild sweet pea, named Lathyru odoratus, in the 1690s. So enamored was Cupani with his find that he sent specimens to friends in Holland and England. A few years later, new colors were budding throughout Europe.
But Scottish horticulturist Henry Eckford was The Game Changer.
Born near Edinburgh in 1823, Eckford’s spent his early adulthood as an apprentice at gardens throughout Scotland and England. Then, starting at 30 years old, he began cross-breeding sweet peas, which became his life’s work.
In fact, Eckford is recognized as the person who transformed the plant from a humble garden subject to the Queen of Annuals, improving overall performance and making its blossoms larger and fuller. Some varieties that Eckford
is credited with are Apple Blossom, Orange Prince, Indigo King—and over 150 more.
Finding out about how my best-loved flower came to be is fascinating.
But really, it comes down to this.
Sweet peas made me smile when I was six years old.
They still do.