The scent of a sweet pea

Does any flower smell more enchanting than the sweet pea?

sweet peas in vase


An old fashioned rose, a tropical tiare, a heady jasmine, an undiscovered sticky frilly thing growing in a rainforest, I’m sure there are many. But I am quite certain that no other flower offers a more abundant fragrant experience that is guaranteed to fill your home with whiffy joy for the whole summer season.

I am led by my nose.

As a fragrance writer, my passion for scent translates readily to my garden. My plot is tiny, a ‘typically Yorkshire’ humble patch that fronts my equally tiny Victorian home. I have to be selective  about what goes in there. If it isn’t fragrant it has to be exceptionally pretty to be squeezed in.

This year, I decided to make the most of vertical space by growing varieties of sweet peas that are noted for their spectacular scent. I trialled 3 varieties of Thompson & Morgan sweet pea seeds and an unknown variety leftover from last year (I did know at some point but my memory has made space for new things!). They are; ‘Promise’, ‘Juliet’ and ‘Fragrantissima’.

sweet pea promiseMy favourite of the 3 varieties was Promise.

Promise nearly did not live up to it’s promise. The first seeds were sown in a South facing unheated windowsill propagator in March. Nothing happened. Despite my cat frequently sitting atop the lid in the manner of a hen hatching eggs, the soil remained shoot free.

Promise was given a second chance outdoors in my make-shift mini greenhouse in early April. April Promise germinated at a rapid rate and produced several healthy plants. I pinched out the tips after a few pairs of leaves had set and left them to fatten up. What then fattened up was some rampant slugs that devoured the young plants leaving only meagre remains.

The meagre remains were transplanted to a high container well away from the vile slimers with a few fresh seeds popped in for good luck.  Though it took almost 3 months to get there, I now have a pot full of intensely scented flowers in vibrant shades of pink from shocking fuchsia to pale strawberry ice cream. The fragrance is stunning, with a sweet sugared almond quality topping what we know as ‘the smell of sweet peas’. The long stems make choosing a vase easy and they sit well amongst other cottage garden plants such as Godetia and Cornflowers.

sweet pea julietThe easiest variety to grow was Juliet. I sowed seeds on both the windowsill and outdoors in their growing spot. The young seedlings all thrived, again pinched out but this these little plants somehow avoided slug carnage.  Just 4 plants have made a 5 foot wall of scent with a bushy vigorous habit. They are positively bionic. The longest of the stems I gathered today was a massive 12 inches making them ideal for the show bench were I brave enough to engage in competitive gardening. The powerful scent lasts for at least a day longer than the other varieties when cut for the vase, however I’m not sure that I like it as much as Promise. Whilst it is definitely a sweet pea fragrance, there is a hint of green sappiness and an odd musky quality that makes it feel slightly ‘feral’. The cream coloured flowers do however make for beautiful arrangements, complimenting showier companions.



Fragrantissima was sown rather late directly in my friend’s allotment. It hasn’t flowered yet but it’s covered in buds and ready to pop at any moment. It appears to be trying to mate with its bountiful courgette neighbour.

The unknowns turned out to be what we think of as a traditional Spencer type mix, with blooms in a variety of colours on relatively short stems. It smells exactly as you’d imagine it to smell and has seduced the Postman who I I caught with his nose in a bloom halfway up the garden path.

This autumn I will early sow Promise once more, perhaps surrounded by eggshells, beer traps, copper rings and a bloke hired from a security company on night watch. I’ll also be growing ‘Heirloom Mixed’ and ‘High Scent’ which both promise to be delightfully fragrant.

I’d love to hear what are you fragrant favourites this year.

Discover the fascinating history of the heirloom sweet pea & other interesting articles in our sweet peas hub.


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