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Unique British sweet pea - also available in the US

Sweet Pea 'Cherub Northern Lights', gorgeous colours on a dwarf plant. Image ©Mark Rowland

The dwarf ‘Cupid’ sweet pea, with white flowers, was first discovered in California in 1893 and, after a flurry of favor, and the addition of other colors, by 1914 interest had faded away.

In the 1950s enthusiasm revived, more colors were selected in the Cupid Series, the semi-tall Jet Set, Knee-Hi and Explorer series were created and more recently Mark Rowland of Owl’s Acre Sweet Peas (who send seed to North America as well as Britain) developed his own improved dwarf series, the Cherub Series.

Now in fourteen colors, ‘Cherub Northern Lights’ is the latest in the series and is unique in dwarf sweet peas. “The flowers open pale with a delicate crimson flare gracing the centre of the standard and a blue picotee edge to the wings,” writes Mark in the 2013 British National Sweet Pea Society Annual where he gives an interesting account of the development of ‘Cherub Northern Lights’. “The colours slowly spread to suffuse the petals and it was this ever changing effect that inspired the choice of name.” Bred from his unique modern Grandiflora sweet pea ‘Fire & Ice’, it brings the subtle colouring and outstanding fragrance of ‘Fire & Ice’ to a dwarf plant. By the end of the season plants form a mound about 30cm/12in high (below).

Sweet Pea 'Cherub Northern Lights' in a hanging basket in the UK in June. Image ©GardenPhtos.comMark’s Cherub Series, launched at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2006, and now available in fourteen colors and a mixture, has proved an excellent series for containers. “To give of their best they need plenty of sunlight, good drainage and plenty of air movement,” Mark says on his website. “This makes them ideal for container growing, and three or four plants in an 45cm/18in tub will give a spectacular display.”

Mark also has the first two varieties in a completely new dwarf series, the Sprite Series, which flowers much earlier than plants in the Cherub Series or Cupid Series. ‘Dark Sprite’ is a maroon and violet bicolor, while ‘Lavender Sprite’ is clear lavender and won an Award of Garden Merit in this year’s Royal Horticultural Society sweet pea trial. I saw it in baskets (left, click to enlarge) and it was lovely. Both reach about 25cm and should be begin to flower in late May in Britain.

Gardeners on both sides of the Atlantic can order these and many other sweet peas from Owl’s Acre Sweet Peas. Dwarf types can be tough to find in North America.

You can read more about sweet peas in my recent piece in Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper and I’ve brought together news of all the new sweet peas introduced in Britain this season on my Royal Horticultural Society New Plants blog.

The natural spread of Sweet Pea 'Cherub Northern Lights'. Image ©Mark Rowland

Thanks to Mark Rowland for the images at the top and bottom of this piece.