Earliest perennial pea

Judith Adam

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Spring vetchling in flower (Photo by Judith Adam)
Spring vetchling in flower (Photo by Judith Adam)
Spring vetchling in flower (Photo by Judith Adam)

Everywhere I look, perennial plants are breaking ground and showing themselves. Even though I’ve worked in my garden for two decades, there are still plants I don’t immediately recognize, and puzzle over them for a few moments before remembering what I planted there. I enjoy rediscovering these old friends, and anticipate how they’ll soon fill the space with flowers.

One plant that’s no mystery because it comes up so quickly is everlasting pea, or spring vetchling, (Lathyrus vernus, Zone 5). This early perennial pea is related to two other ornamental pea plants — scented, annual sweet pea (L. odoratus) and hardy sweet pea vine (L. latifolius, Zone 4). Spring vetchling carries a swarm of silky pea flowers on erect 15-inch (38-cm) stems held above attractive, pointed foliage. Each plant is about 12 inches (30 cm) wide with deep roots that are able to reach ground water and keep the plant hydrated in summer heat. Plants bloom in various shades of pink and purple, and among the best are bi-colour soft pink and rose ‘Spring Delight’ and violet blue ‘Spring Melody’.

Spring vetchling is a plant for part shade to full sun, and blooms enthusiastically for several weeks. Mine stays in flower all through May, and then begins developing ornamental burgundy seedpods that last the whole summer. It’s curious that I’ve never come across anything in print noting the ornamental value of the pods, because they’re quite attractive. Spring vetchling divides easily after it finishes flowering, but this year I’m going to harvest some of the seedpods and try starting plants from seed.

A few clumps of spring vetchling scattered through the garden are good companions to tulips and provide a prolific flower display after a long winter, just when you need it most.

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8 thoughts on “Earliest perennial pea”

  1. Hi Ann, (May 26)

    Try soaking the seeds for 24 hours before planting, it often helps soften the seed coat and stimulate the embryo. Good luck!


  2. Judith, I bought Lathyrus vernus seed from Gardens North; a great seed company with just about any perennial you would want to grow. Now the trick is to see if I can get them to grow. Ann

  3. Judith (May 5),

    If you get any fresh seeds from plants this summer, try to start them right away. You’ll avoid dormancies that way, and get better germination. However, you’ll have the little darlings to deal with all through next winter!

  4. I was able to get some seeds at Gardens North, a seedhouse in New Brunswick. I had a low germination rate but hopefully enough will survive and spread.

  5. Ann (April 20)

    You could have a look at Humber Nurseries, in their large perennial department. Laythyrus vernus plants are listed in the catalogue for Lost Horizons Nursery (losthorizons.ca). Seed is available from Chiltern Seeds in UK (chilternseeds.co.uk)

  6. Blair (April 20)

    I would look somewhere with a large perennial department, such as Humber Nurseries. Good luck, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy this very reliable plant!


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