Freshly picked peas (Pisum sativum) are a real summer treat. They’re easy to grow, and are attractive, too. They don't take up too much space, making them ideal for smaller gardens and containers.
There are many pea varieties to choose from, ranging from early maturing peas that can be sown in autumn and are ready to harvest in June, to maincrop cultivars that don't mature until October.
Here are some of the best peas you can grow.
'Avola' is hardy first early pea. It's a compact variety, reaching just 60cm tall, so it's ideal for growing in containers and small gardens, where it will yield impressive crops of tender pods containing up to eight sweet and succulent peas. Surplus crops freeze particularly well. Sow in spring or in autumn for a very early crop.
'Canoe' is a maincrop pea that bears long, slightly curved and pointed pods containing up to up 12 peas, on almost leafless stems, making for easy picking. It's a very productive variety. The peas have a delicious sweet flavour, and are particularly suited to freezing. The plants don't need much support.
'Capucijner' is a lovely heirloom pea, said to have been bred by Capuchin monks in Holland in the 1500s. It bears purple-blue pods of large olive-green peas – perfect for use in soups and stews. The pretty flowers are pink-white, making it the ideal choice for ornamental borders as well as the vegetable patch. The peas are good eaten fresh but can also be dried for use in soups in stews.
Pea 'Kelvedon Wonder'
'Kelvedon Wonder' is a heavy yielding early pea, ideal for successional sowings throughout spring and summer. It's high yielding, producing two pointed, dark green pods per node, with each pod containing up to eight peas. It is resistant to pea wilt, and downy mildew. It's a compact variety, reaching about 50cm, so is ideal for small gardens and containers.
Pea 'Hurst Green Shaft'
'Hurst Green Shaft' is an excellent and popular maincrop pea, which produces a heavy crop of long pods, each with at least 10 wrinkly peas each, over a long season. The pods can be harvested from June to July and have an excellent flavour. It freezes well and is resistant to downy mildew and fusarium wilt. It freezes well and is a popular variety for exhibiting.
'Terrain' is an extremely high-yielding maincrop pea, bearing huge amounts of curved pods containing up to eight deliciously sweet peas over a long season. A recent introduction, it shows excellent resistance to downy mildew and wilt, and crops until the first frosts. Sow successionally from March to August.
Tips for growing peas
- Peas are generally sown between March and early July and harvested in summer. You can also sow them in autumn or late winter for early crops that are ready from May onwards, but you may experience losses from cold weather or mice.
- Choose a sunny, well-drained spot as pea plants dislike cold, wet soil. Dig in plenty of garden compost, well-rotted manure or mushroom compost before sowing to improve the soil.
- Use a hoe or spade to make a shallow trench, roughly 22cm wide and 3cm deep. Sow peas in two parallel lines, spacing the seeds about 10cm apart. Cover the seeds with soil, water well and label the row. The seedlings should appear in one or two weeks.
- Alternatively, start plants indoors in autumn to avoid seeds being eaten by pests. An easy way to ensure you end up with a straight row is to sow into a length of guttering.
- Provide support in the form of pea sticks.
- To stop plants flopping about on the ground, put supports in place while they’re still young. Peas climb using tendrils, which they wrap around just about anything they come into contact with, so choose supports that are thin enough for the tendrils to wind around. Large twigs, known as pea sticks, are the traditional choice, but a row of netting makes a good alternative.
- Pick regularly to keep the crop coming.
- The sweetness of peas quickly diminishes after picking, so it's best to eat them as soon after harvesting as possible.