The photos on this page are all images of the sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus) "Matucana", an old-fashioned variety of sweet pea sold by Thompson and Morgan. I caught it on camera early in July, on a day when the summer sun shone through its flowers. For me these photos capture what I imagine of "sweet peas" when I start sowing the seeds in the autumn.

Some years they've looked like this, other years they haven't. When they're doing well, they're the essence of summer.

I've grown more modern frillier-petalled ones too, more for their looks than their scent. Once you've smelt the "Matucana" variety, other sweet peas appear only faintly scented, by comparison. So growing a few varieties means I can have the looks and the scent in one vase.

I am no sweet pea expert (though I can see why anyone might want to become one). I know though that I need to sow my sweet peas in autumn, and overwinter the seedlings, in order to get a good flowering period before they get mildew. They always get mildew, beginning in July. I thought this was a result of dryness at the roots, now I think it must be a result of overcrowding, in my very full small garden.

They do flower for ages, and "Matucana", from an autumn sowing, start flowering early, by the end of May or beginning of June.

When they start growing up the canes I tie them in, and try to separate out the stems, and keep them fairly straight. This means the flowers that appear early on have long straight stems. Later, as they grow on, I just let them scramble about and do their thing, though I deadhead them carefully, as once the seedpods begin to form they do gradually lose vigour, and then give up altogether.

They do need a lot of care and attention, but they're worth it. Nothing else in the garden epitomises an English summer in quite the same way.

Sweet pea, 'Matucana'

Sweet pea, 'Matucana'

Photos: Lathyrus odoratus "Matucana" (Sweet Pea)