Sweet peas are deservedly popular in southern California. Our long, mild winters are perfect for their growth and flowering. Their powerful, sweet fragrance is something that stays in our minds. In fact, when I ask people why they like sweet peas, they often say something to the effect that they fondly remember their mother or grandmother growing them, and that they’ll never forget how good they smelled.
A few years back, Roger’s Gardens started an annual, informal sweet pea show in mid-April to show off some of the varieties that are being grown. In spite of their popularity here, there are no sweet pea societies or formal sweet pea shows. Because of this, I became a member of the National Sweet Pea Society, based in Great Britain where sweet peas reign supreme. I have been lucky enough to attend two of their Early National Shows, held in the southern part of England each June. There, one can find sweet peas that have been grown to perfection, with large, perfectly formed flowers on long, straight stems. The exhibitors stage them impeccably and compete against each other to see who has the best of the best. These flowers are the cream of the crop. I have also looked at the Sweet Pea Trials at Royal Horticultural Society Garden Wisley, outside of London, where sweet peas can observed growing.
So why do I travel such a long distance just to see cut flowers? For some unknown reason, I have become obsessed with sweet peas, and have been so for more than ten years. I grow roughly fifty varieties every year. I have many favorites which I always plant. At the same time, I plant quite a few varieties each year that are new to me. Shows and trial gardens like these give me a chance to see some of the newest varieties that are available, as well as to compare new and old varieties to each other. I also make note of varieties that I think should be included in Roger’s Gardens Sweet Pea program, in which we sell plants of twenty to twenty-two varieties, starting in early November and continuing into early March. I usually trial these in my own garden for, at least, one year to see how they perform under our growing conditions. After deciding which varieties to include in the program, seed is mail-ordered from suppliers in England. Plants are then custom-grown for us by a local nursery. Two varieties that I first noted at one of the National Shows and the Wisley trials are ‘Sir Jimmy Shand’, a ruffled, lavender stripe; and ‘Just Julia’, with ruffled, mid-blue flowers. Both of these were included in our program and have become very popular with our customers.