An English nurseryman named Henry Eckford transformed an obscure, Mediterranean plant named Lathyrus odoratus from a spindly, though fragrant, weed to a cottage garden superstar in the late 19th century. It was the preeminent bedding plant of the late Victorian era, when the aristocrats of the day commissioned the development of hundreds of individual cultivars.
Old-fashioned varieties like King Edward VII, Gwendoline and Florencecourt were known for their exquisite scent — sometimes described as a combination between orange, jasmine and honey — as well as the range of colors that can be coaxed from its genes (every color of the rainbow, except yellow). More recent sweet pea cultivars are known more for their size and the exquisite beauty of their flowers, so if you want to intoxicate yourself with the fragrance, it's best to stick with one of the heirloom cultivars.
|King Edward VII||Gwendoline||Florencecourt|
Though sweet pea popularity reached a fever pitch over 100 years ago, new varieties continue to be developed by sweet pea devotees today. There are sweet pea clubs, festivals and competitions, especially in England, where the flower is the official symbol of the town of Wem, the place where Eckford developed his legendary sweet pea varieties.