Sweet peas, also called Lathyrus odoratus, are wonderful annual plants that are a top choice among gardeners. The genus Lathyrus contains around 160 species, and is part of the Fabaceae family along with edible peas!
They are mostly climbing vines, but some are dwarf varieties that grow as bushy mounds, which makes them perfect for container planting. Their flowers have a lovely fragrance and are well-loved for cottage-style gardens. They can be trained to climb up trellises and look fantastic growing up fences.
Native to Italy, Crete, and the island of Sicily, sweet pea plants were discovered in 1669 in Sicily by a monk named Father Cupani. He was so captivated by the plant that he collected and planted it in his monastery before sending it to the UK to a friend. By 1724, it was available commercially as “Cupani’s Original”, and is known today as sweet pea “Cupani”.
Since then, hundreds of varieties have been bred with different-sized blooms, frilly petals (known as Spencer varieties), and different color combinations! Sweet peas come in every color except yellow, a feat which plant breeders to this day are still trying to achieve.
Nevertheless, growing sweet peas will make your garden colorful every year!
Unique Sweet Pea Varieties Every Gardener Should Know About
#1 Apricot Queen
This Spencer sweet pea variety is a climbing vine that reaches 8 feet. Flowers are a lovely soft apricot color and have delicately waved petal edges. Blooms produce a strong, sweet-smelling perfume, making this plant a great choice for garden fences, or climbing up trellises in patio gardens!
#2 Black Knight
Black Knight’ is a fast-growing sweet pea vine that climbs up to 6 feet tall. This heirloom Grandiflora variety was introduced by breeders in 1898 and is still hugely popular today! Each stem is adorned with 3-4 eye-catching maroon flowers that have deep crimson standards with maroon veining and maroon wing petals. These are thought to be one of the darkest colored L. odorata varieties, and their dramatic blooms and heady scent would be magnificent in a traditional or Victorian garden.
#3 Crimson Ripple
This plant is a distinct and unique variety with fragrant and softly waved flowers. Blooms are white flushed and speckled with crimson and have ruffled crimson petal edges. It reaches between 6-8 feet high and is a climber.
Cupani is the original sweet pea plant, as discovered by Father Cupani in the Sicilian hills, this is considered an heirloom variety, and is a vigorous climbing vine. Expect it to reach as high as 8 feet, with gloriously scented flowers! Blooms are bi-colored, with crimson standards and rich violet wing petals.
#5 Dave Thomas
Dave Thomas is a bright and cheerful sweet pea flower with vivid coral-pink blooms. The heavily scented flowers are larger than normal at 2 inches wide with slightly paler wing petals. It grows up to 5.5 feet in height and is a climbing variety. Plant them in containers to bring a pop of color to patio and city gardens.
#6 Dawn Chorus
Dawn Chorus is a compact climbing plant reaching just over 3 feet, making it a perfect choice for container planting! Blooms are 1.5 inches across and have a subtle perfume. Petals are frilly and white with flushed violet undersides.
#7 Dorothy Eckford
Dorothy Eckford is a Grandiflora type of sweet pea vine that was first introduced by breeders in 1903. A vigorous climber, it may reach 6 feet high and produces sweet-smelling flowers. Flowers are considered large at 2 inches wide and are pure white. These are ideal for cut flower arrangements in the home or as bouquets due to their pleasant aroma.
#8 Fire And Ice
The ultimate addition to any cottage-style garden, Fire and Ice is a stunning L. odorata variety! A vigorous climbing vine growing as large as 6 feet, it is a prolific bloomer, producing masses of sweetly-scented flowers. Flowers have a mixture of cerise pink and creamy white standards, and violet-blue winged petal edges that increase with maturity! These delightful blossoms would look show-stopping tumbling over a garden fence!
#9 Flora Norton
Flora Norton is a sweet pea vine with aromatic soft, pale blue flowers. Plants reach 5 feet tall and have silvery-green foliage. This lovely sweet pea flower would look sensational if planted alongside other varieties of contrasting colors such as “Millenium” or “Apricot Queen”.
Gwendoline is a Spencer variety with large 2-inch blooms. Its flowers are delightful with magenta petals that are flushed white at the base and bright pink, softly ruffled petal edges. This plant grows between 6-8 feet tall. A climbing type, Gwendoline is ideal for container planting as its lovely aroma will fill the patio or courtyard.
#11 Hannah’s Harmony
This is a compact sweet pea climber, growing as tall as 3 feet 6 inches. Hannah’s Harmony has lightly scented flowers that would look delightful tumbling over the fence of an informal garden. Blooms grow in clusters and have frilly petals which are white, with cerise pink veins and edging.
#12 Leominster Boy
An eye-catching Spencer-type, Leominster Boy has very large, heavily ruffled, coral-orange flowers. Blooms have a lovely scent, making this an ideal choice for cut flowers or bouquets. This free-flowering variety reaches as tall as 6 feet and would be sure to brighten up any space with its vivid flowers.
#13 Lord Nelson
Lord Nelson is a sweet pea variety first introduced in the 1890s and was named in honor of Lord Nelson, a well-known admiral during that time of the British Royal Navy. This vine is a fast grower, reaching up to 8 feet tall. It has striking blue-violet blossoms that have a lovely scent.
Millennium is a Spencer variety and has large, extremely fragrant, frilly flowers that grow just under 2.5 inches across. Blooms have bright pink standard petals and vivid pink-purple wing petals. This plant is the perfect choice for those wishing to bring color into their gardens. It climbs up to 6 feet and would make a great vine for either patios or courtyards.
#15 Mollie Rilstone
A highly fragrant variety developed in the UK, Mollie Rilstone has beautiful blooms with delicate coloring, making it a top choice for wedding bouquets! This sweet pea vine climbs to heights of 8 feet and has large flowers with ruffled edges. Wings and standards are predominantly cream with soft pink petal edges. Plant it along fences in cottage-style gardens or containers in patios.
#16 Mrs. Bernard Jones
Mrs. Bernard Jones is a Spencer sweet pea and was named after the wife of a well-known breeder Mr. Bernard Jones in 1981. Its flowers are larger than average at 2 inches wide and have delicately wavy petal edges. Blooms are bright candy pink and fade to a softer pink as they age. This variety can grow up to 6 feet and would be well suited for container planting in patio gardens. The perfumed blossoms make wonderful cut flowers and would be a lovely addition to any garden!
#17 Painted Lady
Painted Lady is an heirloom sweet pea, it is an extremely old variety having been bred in 1752. This Grandiflora type will be one of the first sweet peas to bloom in the spring and produces a lovely and strong aroma. Climbing to 8 feet, its bi-colored blooms are extremely striking and make fantastic additions to traditional gardens. Flowers have rose-pink standards, pale pink wings, and crisp white keels.
#18 Pink Cupid
This hardy annual is a dwarf variety, and therefore the perfect candidate for container or basket planting! It is a compact 8 inches and produces wonderfully fragranced white and pale pink bi-color blooms. The foliage is dark green and contrasts very nicely with the pale flowers.
Pinnochio is a dwarf variety at just over 1 foot high, making it the perfect choice for container planting or borders! It grows in bushy mounds and has gray-green foliage. Flowers are 1-inch wide and have white standard petals flushed with purple-red, and white wing petals streaked with dark crimson.
This strong-growing vine is as large as 8 feet. Flowers have a strong, pleasant scent and reach 1.5 inches in width. Petals are all white but are heavily flushed with deep pink. Flowers grow in attractive clusters borne off the grey-green stems and leaves.
Promise is a hugely popular Spencer type, prized for its beautiful bi-colored blooms. Petals are elegantly ruffled, with cerise pink standards, and large white wings. This vine reaches 6 feet and produces masses of sweetly scented blooms, with each stem yielding up to 4 flowers.
#22 Ron Entwistle
A sweet pea growing to just over 5 feet tall, Ron Entwistle has vivid red blossoms which are scarcely scented. Suited for climbing up trellises or fences, this would be a lovely variety for cottage-style or informal gardens. Flowers grow to less than 2 inches across and have softly waved petals.
#23 Royal Flush
This plant is a vigorous climbing type and grows as tall as 7.5 feet. Beautiful, sweet-smelling blooms are cream, heavily flushed with pale pink, and stand out nicely against the light green foliage. Grow this sweet pea vine on trellises or fences paired with Lavender for the ultimate cottage garden look!
#24 Sicilian Pink
This climbing variety reaches 5 ft and 9 inches. It is the perfect candidate for cottage-style garden borders and fences! It bears flowers just under 1-inch that are strongly scented, and has grey-green leaves. Standard petals are reddish-pink, whereas the wing petals are white, tinged with purple.
#25 Solway Fanfare
At just over 3 feet tall, Solway Fanfare is considered a compact climbing sweet pea. Flowers are a bold reddish-purple and reach just over 1-inch wide. They are well-spaced along the long stems. This eye-catching variety would look great as a trellis vine.
#26 Tahiti Sunrise
Tahiti Sunrise is a beautiful sweet pea vine that reaches heights of 5.5 feet. Its blooms are just under 1.5 inches and are heavily fragrant with white petals flushed with soft coral-red. Foliage is grey-green. This vigorously climbing annual is a perfect variety for climbing up trellises in the garden!
#27 Teresa Maureen
Teresa Maureen is a bushy, climbing variety growing up to 3 feet. This multi-colored variety has sweet-smelling blooms that are just under 1-inch wide. Standard petals are white, softly flushed with reddish-purple and wing petals are white with violet edging. A perfect variety for informal gardens.
#28 Turquoise Lagoon
A truly unique sweet pea flower, Turquoise Lagoon would be the central attraction in any garden. It is a semi-dwarf climbing variety with lovely scented flowers, that reaches 4 feet tall. Large blossoms are soft pink, maturing to mauve-blue, before becoming an eyecatching aqua. Blooms change color even after they’ve been cut, so they make beautiful cut flowers! Turquoise Lagoon was created by crossing L. odorata and L. belinensis, creating a new category of Sweet pea plants, known as shifters.
#29 White Cupid
White cupid is a compact sweet pea plant growing as large as 8 inches. Blooms are pure white and stand out nicely against the dark green foliage. A dwarf variety, White Cupid is a great choice for container and hanging basket planting, however, this plant would look particularly lovely planted in rows along cottage-style garden borders!
Senator is an heirloom variety first introduced in 1891. Its vines climb as tall as 8 feet, and each stem normally produces 2-3 blossoms. Flowers have creamy white petals that are adorned with chocolate-purple speckles. As popular today as it was in the past, Senator is a great addition to any garden!