My Wife's No Sweet-Pea, She's Champion of England

I was flipping through the pages of Hobby Farm Home magazine when I came upon an article concerning the cultivation of garden plants that are described as both beautiful and good for eating. And I thought, huh, that's exactly how I'd describe my wife.

First off, let's establish that my wife is no sweet pea. The sweet pea is tall, and its flowers are exceptionally beautiful, but its fruit is not edible. In fact, it can be toxic if ingested in quantity. Which is like a lot of women, although not mine. And according to wikipedia, "symptoms of toxicity were portrayed by the character 'alex supertramp' in the movie 'Into the Wild'." There you go, wikipedia says that sweet peas are the super tramps of the garden world. All the gourds and pumpkins gossip about the sweet pea when it does the walk of shame on Saturday morning.

When I think about wanting a wife, I want to think about more than just flowers that are pretty to look at. Yeah, I want that, but if I can't eat the fruit, I think I'll be staying away. I want something with pure white flowers, hardy under difficult conditions, with big pods that can fill your mouth.

It's got big pods, too.

I want a Champion of England.

Sure, it's kind of an old-school sort of breed, but it's only fallen out of favor because farmers can't machine-harvest climbing vines. I'm a one garden kind of man. I want a plant that will make excellent use of the garden I can give it, and a climbing vine will give the most fruit in a small space. I just have to be willing to carefully pick everything by hand.

And yes, it's a little temperamental when you first plant it. You have to make sure that the seeds don't rot, which they're prone to do. This can come from overwatering. Of course, if you neglect the plant early on, you'll get very little fruit at all, even if it survives. Finding the balance is key; and putting your pea in a little compost never hurt. It'll need plenty of moisture to germinate, but with the right skill and luck, you'll get all the moisture you need.

Any climbing pea is a joy to the gardener not only because of its fruit and flowers, but because of its effect on the heartier parts of the garden. Feel free to plant your carrot and potatoes right under the pea bush, peas help provide the nitrogen that will make your tubers virile and strong.

The peas of the Champion of England are tasty both when younger and when mature, but the mature peas are definitely sweeter. Immature peas will require more careful preparation before eating, but the mature peas will pop beautifully in your mouth with only the slightest pressure from your tongue. Either way, you will be sure to think all the work you put into cultivating your Champion of England well worth all the hard work.

If you don't yet have a pea plant, I'm sure you're thinking to yourself, "Wow, I sure would like to get hold of a Champion of England." I'm sure you would. Unfortunately, they are extremely difficult to obtain. Many folks complain that although they've searched high and low, they can find no one who sells Champions of England. They've become extremely rare. In 2010 this catalogue said they had seeds, but also said that the plant is nearly extinct. The Champion of England is a rare jewel.

But don't lose hope. If you can't find a Champion of England, there are many other excellent varieties of climbing pea out there. Just remember that if you want a pea like my wife, beautiful with flowers in the spring and heavy with fruit even into the winter, you'll have to put in plenty of work. But it's work well worth it, rewarding both the eyes and the tongue.