Sowing sweet pea seeds outdoors in January seems like an act of faith.

Especially when the sun hasn’t shown its face in days and the whole world is sodden and drear. I was almost laughing at the absurdity of it last week when, bundled in my winter coat and hurrying against the cold of a cheerless afternoon, I dug my hoe into the beds outside my vegetable garden and turned over the rich loam. Dropping the seeds into the little trenches I had made, I felt like I needed to apologize to them. I had to keep reminding myself that they like it…that hopefully we’ll have enough really cold weather over the next few weeks of this fitful winter to do them some good. That they’re alot tougher than they look–like a Southern belle? ;)–and that it’s our languishing summers that they fear more than anything.

I was leafing through a seed catalogue the other day–one of my guilty pleasures–and paused quite wistfully over the two-page spread of sweet pea varieties. There was only one of the whole lot that was actually stout-hearted enough to declare its resistance to all that zone 7 can dish out. Old Spice–it’s all I’ve ever had any luck with, but it’s of a lovely, old-fashioned stock of many colors and I adore it. I’ve never had enough blooms to sacrifice to a bouquet–shocking extravagance!–like my Northern and English fellow-gardeners, but every single blossom that’s ever lifted its little bonnet over my garden fence has been precious to me. A welcome and beloved friend.

The catalogue in question indicated a couple of new varieties that Englishwomen grow for show. If I lived in England, I would grow sweet peas by the bushel basket-full. And then some…