Friday, January 15, 2010

perennial sweet pea

My seedlings of perennial sweet pea are standing four to five inches tall, so I'm thinking about places to set them out along the fence or maybe on the garden arch where mandevilla is struggling.

Meanwhile three small plantings of annual sweet peas are in various stages of development. The ones from the nursery have reached their promised five feet (they're a dwarf variety) so are sticking up above the top of the four-foot chain-link fence. The ones planted from seed are close to two feet tall, and the ones from the farmer's market are about eight inches tall and just beginning to reach out for the fence.

With the promise of all these elegant blooms to come over the next three months or so, why am I starting another variety with smaller, less fragrant blossoms and shorter stems? A variety that, according to informed sources, may become invasive.

I first saw perennial sweet peas on a walk in the neighborhood at least 20 years ago -- a stem of waxy-looking white flowers sticking out of an unkempt profusion of other vines and creepers. Naturally I soon planted some on a wire fence designed to keep basketballs and skateboards out of the compost. They were neglected there, but popped up a couple of years later along the north wall to my great surprise and delight.

Until I googled the perennial sweet pea, I had not known that Edna St. Vincent Millay's Exiled spoke of "the purple wild sweet-pea" that grows along the coast of Maine. A range of pinks and purples, along with white, is promised by the seed-packet picture, so the darkest ones will provide a living literary allusion.

The frilly, fluttery annual sweet pea is a prima donna with a short, spectacular life. I expect her perennial cousin to be a somewhat frumpy but more dependable companion.

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License