Our Favorite Peas

If the only peas you’ve tasted were from a plastic freezer bag—or worse, a can—you have no idea what you’re missing. Fresh-from-the-garden peas are so delicious, so sweet and nutty, it seems they should be bad for you! I used to send our daughter out to harvest them before dinner, and she’d eat every one before bringing the empty pods back to the house. (Parents of picky eaters, take note!) Now my husband does the same thing—I send him out to harvest our sugar snaps and he brings back an empty bowl and a grin.

Peas prefer a long, cool and damp growing season, pretty much the opposite of what we have here in Colorado. Still, I plant a crop every year. Even if we only get one meal, it’s worth it. We love peas.

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Locoweeds

oxytropis-lambertii_locoweed_kcs-co_lah_3438nefI was hiking on a nearby ranch last week when we came across some spectacular wildflowers. As I knelt to grab some photos, my plant expert companion remarked, “You know that’s locoweed. We should pull it out!”

What? Destroy these beauties? Why? I was about to receive an education.

Locoweed (or crazyweed) is the common name for two genera of western plants, Oxytropis (left) and Astragalus (also called milkvetch), both in the pea family, and both including some species that contain the toxin swainsonine. Swainsonine interferes with protein metabolism and causes nerve damage.

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Perennial Sweetpea – Lathyrus latifolius

lathyrus-latifolius-perennial-sweetpea-home-lah_5796Perennial sweetpea is a lovely, old-fashioned flower—one that grandmother might have grown. The keeled pea blossoms, ranging from a blushed white to a deep rose pink, form a clump atop long stems. Lanky vines sport sparse foliage. Bloom will continue from now until early fall if spent flowers are removed. If left to mature, the round, spiral pods will suddenly twist open, flinging their seeds several feet into the air, and sowing plenty of new vines in your garden.

lathyrus-latifolius-perennial-sweet-pea-home-lah-010While the more familiar annual sweet peas don’t do well with Colorado’s wild weather gyrations, this perennial form thrives here. The plants are long-lived, growing six feet long by the end of summer and then dying back to the roots in winter. They cling with tendrils, so some supportive netting is helpful.

Difficult to find as plants in nurseries, perennial pea is easily started from seed. Soak the seeds overnight to hasten germination and then plant in average garden soil in full sun to part shade. Go light on the watering.

With their cottage garden appeal, the vines combine well with clematis and roses, or you can grow them on a fence. They are also suitable as cut flowers. The only drawback is that the blossoms lack the wonderful fragrance of the annual sweet peas.