Strawberries and peas bring back tasty memories from my childhood. In Russia, my family had a productive kitchen garden packed with apple trees, strawberry beds and various delicious veg. Faced with the prospect of tiding up strawberry runners in the summer, as a child, I shamelessly ate strawberries straight from the plants and peas never made it to my grandma’s kitchen either. She was not happy with me, of course, but the taste and fragrance were irresistible!
While I am still successfully growing strawberries in my small urban garden in London; peas are a different story. They occupy precious ground and take at least a couple of months to develop few little pods with 5 peas in them. This is really outrageous behaviour! This year I had resolved to sowing seeds strictly for fresh pea shoots to add in salads. Same fragrance, less hassle and they can be grown on the windowsill.
My resolution only lasted a month. In February I attended the Garden Press Event where I discovered two new varieties of peas from Dobies. Spring Blush peas appealed to me for their novelty look and tall Champion of England was advertised as ideal for a small garden so I was eager to try both. In my defence, Dobies seed packets have also a beautiful clean design with a space for gardening notes and these seeds were screaming at me “Sow me, sow me…”
Spring Blush, Mangetout pea
All unusual looking edibles are high on my growing list, including bi-coloured peas! Spring Blush is a very attractive variety with incredible pink blushed pods and flowers are also stunning in bicolour purple and white. I will be converting the southwest fence of my garden into a colourful veg wall, mix of sweet peas, Borlotti beans, peas, cucamelons and achocha. Very easy to create with pea & bean netting and takes literally no space.
Other benefit of these peas is their hyper-tendril habit. The young tendrils are ready for harvesting in just a few weeks for a refreshing spring flavor.
I will be picking my mangetout (meaning “eat all”) peas regularly when pods are still small and tender. The more you pick, the more peas you get. 🙂 Pink pods will look great in Mame Gohan (Japanese pea rice) or stir-fries bringing a real wow factor to these dishes.
Champion of England, a heritage variety from Rob Smith range
There is something special about growing heritage vegetables. Knowing that 175 years ago a gardener, like you and me, was planting the same seeds, fills my heart with excitement. Preserving an old variety and keeping it alive makes me feel a part of the much larger garden community, connected to all the gardeners of past, present and future.
Champion of England was introduced in 1843 by William Fairbeard, a nurseryman in Kent and a respected pea grower of his day. True to its name, Champion of England was reaching the sky! Did you know that the Victorians grew more than 120 varieties of tall pea, but eventually, they had fallen out of fashion as tall peas were difficult to harvest commercially with machines.
Champion of England was re-introduced by Robert Woodbridge whose grandmother grew it in her garden in Lincolnshire. I like the interesting seed-saving story behind this pea and its proud name.
This variety is perfect for urban gardens growing 2.5m tall and giving a great return from a small space. Peas are also incredibly sweet with 7-10 peas per pod. My only worry is how to reach them!
Grow Your Own Peas
Peas are a spring vegetable and prefer cooler weather conditions. There is an old tradition of planting peas outside on St. Patrick’s Day, which is believed to bring luck come harvest. It was snowing on St. Patrick’s Day in London so I started my seeds indoors sowed in loo rolls. They work well for vegetables, like peas, which don’t like root disturbance. After watching Monty Don on the BBC Gardener’s World programme I am also trying to reduce use of plastic in my garden and cardboard rolls are definitely an eco-friendly and free alternative. The only problem is I fail to collect enough of them!
Push seeds 2cm deep into soil and leave to germinate at temperature between 10-15 degrees. Don’t over water as pea seeds rot easily. I will wait till April to transplant my plants outside as peas like to grow in daytime temperature between 15-25 degrees.
Peas and beans are good companion plants for many vegetables for they increase level of nitrogen in the soil. I will be growing mine among sweetcorn, cucamelons, tomatoes and squashes.
P.S. While I was writing this post, all my seeds germinated, ten of out ten for Spring Blush and Champion of England! I am waiting impatiently for spring to arrive now. What vegetables have you started in March? Are you growing any peas and what varieties? Let me know in the comments and good luck with seed sowing!