“Here are sweet peas, on tip-toe for a flight: with wings of gentle flush o’er delicate white, and taper fingers catching at all things, to bind them all about with tiny rings,” wrote John Keats of an old cultivar of sweet pea, ‘Painted Lady’.
Cultivation of sweet peas began in the 17th century. The height of popularity (at least in the United Kingdom) was in the late Victorian era, due to the breeding work of Scottish horticulturist Henry Eckford. Eckford was responsible for developing both larger flowers and an extended colour palette. By 1901, his cultivars accounted for over 40% of the named varieties. Although the popularity has perhaps waned somewhat, sweet peas continue to be grown in temperate gardens worldwide, particularly for their fragrant cut flowers.
‘Wiltshire Ripple’ was not developed by Eckford. It is a Spencer sweet pea, derived from the breeding work of Silas Cole (who worked for the Spencer family). Named for the 20th-century farmer and sweet pea grower R.F.M. Wiltshire, ‘Wiltshire Ripple’ is described in Graham Rice’s The Sweet Pea Book, as:
Rich, dense chocolate-claret stripe on a white background. Well waved, standards and wings hooded. Strongly scented.
To learn more about the history of sweet pea cultivation, read Sarah Raven’s article in The Telegraph: The Sweet Pea.