The Interplay of Color and Fragrance: Sweet Pea
If I tell you if it weren’t for the Scottish nurseryman Henry Eckford, we wouldn’t have the pleasure to bask in the sweet and intoxicating fragrance of sweet pea, won’t you be immensely grateful to him? He crossbred and developed the sweet pea of today – “the sweet pea”, which we are going to cover as one of the most pleasant-smelling flowers and which was devoid of any natural significant fragrance before that!
Now being used elaborately for the creation of fresh flower bouquets and in decoration, these flowers hold a prominent space in every garden. The intense and pleasant smelling flowers are purple in color and native to the Aegean Islands, Southern Italy and Sicily.
Sweet pea or Lathyrus odoratus comes from the family of legumes and is an annual flowering plant. With flowers in deep red, yellow and white color, the plant is a climber and grows to the height of 1-2 meters.
It is the preferred choice for many novice gardeners because the large seeds of sweet peas are easy to manage and cultivate easily. Of course, the scented and gorgeous flowers are bonus! It is always better to plant them indoors before taking them outside in natural environment as this ensures full season of bloom. They prefer cool area to thrive, so late winter or early spring is the ideal time to plant them.
- Working during the late Victorian era, Eckford was awarded the top award of First Class Certificate in the year 1882, for introducing the Bronze Prince of sweet pea, the first ever crossbred species. Though, it was only in 1888 that he established trial fields in Wem, Shropshire for sweet peas. And by 1901, there were 115 successful cultivars out of the 264 that were grown.
- Wem has recognized and valued the association between sweet pea, its land and Eckford family. Almost each street signs are adorned with sweet pea motif and one of the areas is also known as Eckford Park. One of the cultivated species is also named, ‘Dorothy Eckford’ after one of the family members of Eckford family.
- The annual and cross-bred sweet peas blooms last only one season while the everlasting and natural variety of this plant is less fragrant.
- It is not to be confused with the edible green pea and the seeds of this genus can be toxic if ingested in large numbers.
- The Father of Modern Genetics, Gregor Mendel did his famous genetic cross-breeding on pea plants and the cross breeding of sweet pea has been done in the same manner. It is highly preferred for genetic experiments because it can self-pollinate and the traits like petal shape, height and colors can be observed easily in the posterity.
- The pioneer geneticist Reginald Punnett used sweet pea plants to study genetic linkage.
- The cross-breeding of sweet pea has been known for ages now. They have been around here since 17th century but so far, there has been no success in cultivating yellow sweet pea flowers. Like blue rose, it remains elusive and a dream of many botanists and geneticists. Though, cross-breeding of pea cultivars have given us several colors to feast our eyes upon, such as pastel shades and even bi-colors too!
- As of now, there are over 50 sweet pea cultivars that are recognized and have been awarded Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.