Heritage Climbing Peas

The peas are flowering and the first pods are starting to form

So far it’s a story of two halves, a mixture of success and failure for my Peas. The dwarf (standard) peas have failed miserably. They simply didn’t get enough water, and to be honest I may have neglected them in favour of the climbing peas. Either way I’ve grubbed them up and planted the spinach and chard in that patch, and they are starting to settle in nicely.

I came across this comment about climbing peas, “the only reason tall peas  have been abandoned commercially is that you can’t harvest them with machines”. Meaning that heritage climbing peas have fallen out of favour and popularity. In my innocence (maybe ignorance) I thought the standard / dwarf peas would do better on my windy site, but was proved spectacularly wrong. From the early plantings, the majority have grown from strength to strength.

Climbing Peas - Early April

Admittedly some are doing better than others – the Magnum Bonum and Simpson’s Special aren’t growing as strongly as the others. But looking at what is doing well is plenty for me to smile about. Right now, as I look at the plot there is a profusion of pea flowers – whites, creamy whites, pinks, purples and flashes of reds. A sight to behold.

Climbing Peas in Flower

The plan is to save as many seeds as is possible, oh, and eat them. The one problem I see with saving them is identifying which variety is which. I had limited space, lots of varieties so decided that the best plan (after various advice) was to grow them up canes, either on their own or with another variety , but a variety that is clearly distinguishable from the other – like Serpette and Carruther’s and Simpson’s Special and Robinson’s. But looking at them now, I’m not so sure!

Climbing Peas

Carruthers’ Purple Podded

  • According  to the HSL this is an heirloom pea from County Down, donated to them by Patrick Carruthers who got it from an old family gardener about 25 years previously,  and has grown it ever since. They also mention the beautiful flowers. Tall and vigorous (it grows to about 6ft), Carruthers’ Purple Podded has a slightly olive-green shade to its leaves and produces a splash of bright magenta in each leaf axil, and to a lesser extent on the backs of the leaves. So it looks quite decorative even before it flowers.
  • “The peas inside are an olive-green colour, large and very tightly packed, approximately eight to a pod. They go slightly square and chunky as they press against each other in the pod. The fresh peas taste surprisingly sweet for a purple. The flavour is mild, but it’s the sweetness that dominates. They have a slightly coarser texture than a modern green pea but that’s actually rather nice … and there’s none of the earthiness or bitter aftertaste you so often get with purples.
  • This is truly a superior variety and deserves to be much more widely grown. – Mr Carruthers who donated the pea to the Heritage Seed Library says they can be frozen straight from the pod without the need for blanching. Yields are very generous and the plants produce masses of pods.” http://daughterofthesoil.blogspot.com/2008/01/heritage-vegetable-review-pea.html

Champion of England  –

  • Real Seeds describe this as a really good, traditional tall pea to 8 – 10 ft, dating from the 1840’s. But it’s been unavailable , other than seedbanks, for a long time now. A few people sent them small samples of seed from time to time, but we couldn’t get them to grow. All that changed in 2007 though, when Robert Woodbridge got in touch  with a new strain of family-saved seed from Lincolnshire in the 1940’s.
  • It grew really well, and more importantly, was true to the old descriptions. It was fantastic. For home gardeners, climbing peas give a great return for a small space.  As to the pea it grows to ten foot high and the peas are 8 to 10 per pod and you start picking from the bottom and work your way up, it prefers to be sown at the end of April to avoid the pea moth maggot and takes about 100 days to reach 10 ft.”

Magnum Bonum

  • Dating back to the 1860s. Our donor, Dr Robb-Smith passed seed to HSL during the 1980s; his friend’s family had grown the variety in Devon for many years. A strong, reliable and vigorous maincrop variety growing to more than 1.8m and producing an abundance of thick pods well filled with juicy, flavoursome peas that can be picked over several weeks.                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Robinson’s Purple Podded

  • “an abundant cropper. The peas aren’t sweet like modern green-podded varieties, but it’s ideal for savouries. This is W. Robinson & Son (Seeds & Plants) Ltd description of this pea “This attractive purpled flowered and purple podded pea
    dates back to the early part of the last century. Will reach a height of 5 feet and will taste as good as it looks.” The company history is also a good read, http://www.mammothonion.co.uk/history.htm

Salmon Flowered

  • See the above link – “Certainly a novelty … it looks like a cross between a culinary and a sweet pea. It’s likely that it’s a relic of a near-obsolete type of pea known as ‘crown peas’, ‘English crown peas’ or ‘tufted peas’. Once common in seed lists of the 17th and 18th century, and still mentioned in gardening books in the mid 19th century, they are now all but unknown in cultivation and mostly of interest to geneticists.
  • The flowers are gorgeous. Delicate, compact, immaculately formed and a very pretty two tone pink. Because the flowers are borne in a clump at the top they bloom more or less all at once. This is a mixed blessing, because it looks absolutely stunning for a few days and then it’s gone.
  • You don’t get very many peas in a pod … four to six seems about normal. And they aren’t terribly big either. But they are surprisingly palatable for such a novelty variety … in fact they’re very sweet and flavoursome indeed. Yields overall are quite small but quick to mature and very enjoyable raw. They were too good to cook”

Serpette Guilloteau

  • Can be sown in Autumn. – “A traditional climbing pea, to 1.5 m high, with curved pods of fat green peas. The name is derived from an old French word for a pruning knife blade, reflecting the remarkable sickle-shape of the pods.  Classed as ‘semi – early’ this makes a good second-early or maincrop pea. It has smooth seeds, so it can be sown early, but pick small for sweetness.  Fast growing, curved pods, slightly flattened sweet peas.”
  • “ growing to “about five feet tall, with smooth seeds, white flowers and abundant sickle-shaped pods.”

Simpson’s Special

  • Donated by the Rural Life Museum in Norfolk to the HSL, this variety has been grown in Sussex for at least the last 50 years. A tall (140cm plus), productive pea producing delicate white flowers followed by large curved pods averaging around 7 marrowfat-type peas per pod.


  • “This is a well known Maincrop variety that has stood the test of time. A tall vine that produces mid-season. It  grows to a good 6 feet tall, though others have written in to say that it gets taller (up to 9 or even 10ft!) for them.  Although various sub-strains have been developed over the years, its hasn’t really changed from the description of ‘Carter’s Telephone Pea’ in Vilmorin’s famous book of 1885 on vegetable gardening.  It has heavy yields of large pods with sweet, non-starchy peas inside. We find that the pods always swell up a bit before the peas fill out, so don’t be fooled into picking too early! Wrinkled seed, stays sweet longer in pods – but don’t sow in cold wet conditions.”

Winterkefe mangetout peas

  • “This variety was originally from Switzerland (via Irish Seed Savers).  A tall growing vine with 2 tone purple flowers, followed by a heavy crop of tasty green pods. It is reported hardy enough to overwinter for an early crop the following  spring.”

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