a plant i’d order: lathyrus vernus

Lathyrus vernus, purple formMORE ARMCHAIR CATALOG SHOPPING, once removed: If I didn’t already have the little perennial pea called Lathyrus vernus, or spring vetchling, I’d order plenty. Here’s why you should:

Lathyrus vernus plays well with others, and doesn’t ask for any attention. It even tolerates rather dry spots in the woodland garden, hallelujah, though I grow it in sunnier areas, too. Sold?

In my garden, Lathyrus vernus coincides with the mid-season to late Narcissus, and is in full color with the acid-yellow early euphorbias, hellebores and pulmonarias, among other things.

A girl (or boy) can’t have enough of this non-vining perennial, a herbaceous mound of a thing that’s maybe a foot high and wide once fully grown, with a stature like a tiny, ferny shrub. It will take a couple of years to reach full size, but is nice, even if less impactful, when young. You will get seedlings, but not in profusion, at last not here in the Northeast.


The pea-like flowers of this little legume are most commonly a rich purple, and less commonly pink (above) or pink and white (L.v. ‘Alboroseus’). A close cousin called L. aureus, with apricot blossoms, is on my must-have list, but hard to find. All are hardy as cold as Zone 4, I have read.

If it’s such a nice plant, why isn’t it more widely sold? Like so many early spring beauties, L. vernus doesn’t look like much in a nursery pot, particularly when out of bloom. I was lucky that much smarter gardening friends from Seattle who curate the Dunn Garden there brought me a flat of plug-sized seedlings years ago.

“What are those?” I said, wrinkling my nose at the nondescript sprouts in the black plastic tray.

“You’ll see,” they said, and set about plugging them in here and there as these particular friends are inclined to do in other friends’ gardens, taking the concept of hostess gift to a whole new level.

Come to think of it, time to invite them back for another visit, isn’t it?


    1. margaret says:


      Definitely Seneca Hills, and Forest Farm as noted. Some years I have seen (via internet detailed searches) some Pacific Northwest nurseries having liners but I haven’t seen any this year in my research for this post. Seneca Hills is the best bet I think t get started, and has the purple, pink, and pink and white I believe. And the proprietor, Ellen Hornig, is a gifted plantswoman whom I love to buy from.

  1. MacGardens says:

    Very interesting. I was just reading about them in Fine Gardening today. Looks good to me. We’ve been growing their cousin Lathyrus latifolius (Perennial Sweet Pea) on a grassy bank in amidst the Crownvetch for years. The flowers are gorgeous.

  2. Johanna says:

    Love that rosy-purpley color. What about fragrance, anything to compete with lovely old annual sweet peas? Does is make those lovely curlicues?

    I have some plain old cow vetch in my yard that I love. You called this pea a “vetchling” — indeed, vetch is very pea-like!

    Please keep the beautiful, snow-less photos coming!!!


  3. margaret says:

    @Brenda: Welcome. Yes, from seed is possible; see the Chiltern hotlink at the end of the post; I think they will have what you need.

    @Balsamfir: These are non-vining and unlike Lathyrus latifolius (which has naturalized in TX and other places and is listed on lots of invasive lists) L. vernus has not been rated as invasive in any research I have seen.

    As for how to decide what’s OK, what’s not, I think you have to pick a resource or resources whose POV makes sense to you.

  4. kate says:

    I love this plant! The flowers are gorgeous ~~ even though I live in zone three, I tried to grow these. They didn’t survive sadly. I will have to come for a visit and hope you post some lovely photographs hwne they are in bloom!

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Sue. I have just been transported to a world of hellebores, birds and more things I love by clicking your url…I felt right at home instantly. Thank you, and thank you for visiting. I think (if you have not been there) that you may also enjoy A Way to Garden’s “sister” site at The Sister Project, and especially its art and craft and photography Galleries. Do come see me here again soon (and please send spring).

  5. Ted says:

    Hurrah Hurrah! These plants are close to my heart as well. They are the definition of fresh. In the Midwest, The Flower Factory and Rush Creek Growers both offer spring vetchling. Flower Factory is by Madison, and is AMAZING. Rush Creek is a great wholesale nursery outside St Paul. Their plants are offered at local retail nurseries though out the Upper Midwest.

  6. Kathy says:

    I bought a few of these beautiful plants at the New York Botantical Garden. Loved them and so did the rabbits. I’m trying again this spring.

  7. Cindy says:

    I first read of these lovely ephemerals thru Helen Dillon and tracked them down to Seneca Hills a few years ago. I can attest to great plants from there as well — these are really charming and so far I’ve not had a problem w/ the rabbits. It makes me so anxious for spring to see your photos of these!
    And p.s., love your website & blog.

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Chloe. Love hearing of Helen Dillon, who I heard speak and met a few times. An intrepid gardener. And thanks also for confirmation about Seneca Hills. They have been a consistent, reliable source for so many unusual things that I now live happily (hopefully) everafter with here. See you soon again.

    1. margaret says:

      Thank you, Handan, and welcome. Wonderful! I will have you to blame when I run amok ordering things there, yes? Hope to see you soon again.

  8. caroline says:

    I have moved to a house with a large sweet pea population near the front door. I’d like to thin them and move some of them. I dug out two and moved them and the don’t look like they are going to make it.

    Can anyone help?

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Caroline. Do you know what they are specifically (a cultivated sweet pea grown for flowers?) and were they very large already when you attempted the move?

  9. Merrill says:

    I was perusing your website and I saw the post about Lathyrus vernus. It is an excellent plant and for gardeners located in the Chicago metro region they might want to try Arrowhead Alpines in Fowlerville Mi. A great nursery with lots of unusual/dynamite woodies and perennials. That’s where I saw this plant for the first time and was smitten. This nursery is top notch and easy to get to- a great day trip.They do have a website www. arrowheadalpines.com/

    The nursery is owned by Bob and Brigitta Stewart (a great crew supports it)) and hosts a ‘Winter Sucks!” party in late Feburary. This is where you can see lots of plants, and meet other plant lovers.
    The owners are generous with their knowledge and of course, lots of great plants!
    Check it out – see you there in 2011 enthusiatic plant people!- there’s something new to learn . That’s the great thing about horticulture.


    They are one of the few rare plant nurseries even within shouting distance of Chicago Metro- you would thing that there would be more of them.

    Go see it-catalog on line at http://www.arrowheadalpines.com

    Merrill McNicholas, horticulturist at the Morton Arboretum and still learning.

    1. Margaret says:

      Thanks, Merrill, and welcome. I love this underused little perennial. Glad you agree — and what a great resource Arrowhead is; thanks for reminding me. I hope we will see you again; you must love working at the Morton — jealous! :)

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Meri, and I know what you mean. Plants are my favorite thing to indulge in! Nice to see you and hope to again soon.

  10. Elaine Schmottlach says:

    My lathyrus vernus are in full sun, and handle NH winters just fine (zone 4). They self-sow a lot, and I find I have to dig up the seedlings while they’re tiny or they become very hard to dig. This is the first perennial to bloom in my gardens, not counting daffs and such.

    When I first saw this plant in someone else’s garden, it was in shade, so it’s a pretty adaptable plant. I never watered mine last summer (2016) when we had a terrible drought, but maybe it’s due to good moisture-retentive soil.

    1. margaret says:

      Most of mine have faded away (gotten swamped by other things I think) over the years, but I am interested to hear that yours in sun self-sow enthusiastically. I must try them in a new spot.

  11. Rose M Chalifoux says:

    Hi Margaret: I have been following your blog for a number of years and love to see it on my lap top. My question to you is what do you know about a lilac tree. My brother and his wife in Minnesota tell me there are lilac trees in the twin cities and when they go there in the spring you can open the care windows and the smell is heavenly. She said they were trees and not a bush. When they visited my brother in Montana and told him about them he found them in a local nursery. I looked it up and saw that it flowers white and can get quite big. Do you know any thing about this tree? ( Just a question and not a post).

    Thanks, Rose

  12. Kitty says:

    I see this article was written long ago, but when you wrote “A close cousin called L. aureus, with apricot blossoms, is on my must-have list, but hard to find. “, I had to tell you I just got one just last month from Dancing Oaks. It came already very large and in flower. In the L. vernus group I have the species, as well as L.v. Rosea (pink) and L.v. Katrink Hull, (blue) I also Have Lathyrus vernus flaccidus with purple flowers but it’s seedlings always come out with pink flowers. I don’t have a white. I’m thoroughly n=infatuated with this plant.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.