By David Marks
We first grew this variety of pea in 2008 more as an experiment rather than out of a particular choice. We have grown it every year from then onwards because it produces delicious tasting peas, huge amounts of them and seems to be unaffected by the pea moth.Alderman (also known as Victorian Colossal Climbing) is a climbing pea variety which is best grown to about 1.8m / 6 ft high but with very little effort can be grown to twice that height. Quite how you would safely harvest the peas at the top of the plant however has stopped us from doing that. Another problem with a plant of that height would be the shadow it might cast. This is our personal best ever pea variety and we hope you give it a try.


The Alderman pea variety is known to date back to 1893 and was a common site in Victorian kitchen gardens. Its long-cropping time made it ideal for using fresh and any excess crops were dried, stored and used later in the year for soups, stews and other dishes. The Americans have their own version of the Alderman variety which they call the Tall Telephone in honour of Alexander Graham Bell who invented the telephone.

This is no F1 variety and over the years its growing characteristics and taste has changed slightly with differences clearly evident between different seed merchants. We would recommend Victoriana Nursery as on of the best suppliers for this variety – click here.


The plant itself is most definitely a climbing variety. With support and left to its devices will grow to 4.5m / 14ft or more although we don’t recommend that. Nowadays it’s classified as a late maincrop variety by many seed merchants and possibly the variants they are selling make their pea seeds suitable only for that. However this particular variety is very well suited to growing as an early variety as well. Sow under cloches or in pots indoors for the earliest peas and then sow again a month or later as a maincrop. This will give you the real possibility of eating fresh peas for three months or more from a single packet. One common problem with sowing pea seeds in pots in the greenhouse / indoors is that you require such a large amount of plants for a good harvest that may people are put off the idea simply because of lack of space. This is where Alderman really shines through. At three plants per support stake it’s not difficult to start off an early crop and each plant will produce a huge crop of peas if left to grow 1.8m / 6ft high.

Alderman peas, click picture to enlarge it

Each pod produces about ten good sized peas and the taste is superb. Sweeter than the sweetest of other varieties and this sweetness persists even when the peas are allowed to grow larger than normal. The flowers are white with green pods and leaves. If you plant a row of this variety you might like to grow one or two plants at the end of the row as mangetout, they will clearly be ready earlier than the main crop and they are excellent for this use.

Alderman has another very endearing characteristic which is its freedom from pests and diseases. We put this down to the fact that the leaves and pods are held high off the ground but that may just be coincidence. Certainly we have never suffered problems with Pea Moth or slugs / snails and they appear to be untroubled by fungal diseases such as mildew. other varieties we have grown have suffered from those pests and diseases to some degree or other.

As said before this variety of pea is not an F1 but it is used extensively in some breeding programs for climbing peas. One blog we found particularly fascinating about this aspect is produced by Daughter of the Soil. The link is to just one of her pages on breeding peas from the Alderman variety, others can also be found on the site. It’s not for the faint-heated though, sometimes the amount of detail and technical information can be a bit overwhelming.


We’ve described how this variety produces a bumper crop of peas and it’s all done from a relatively small area of ground. For this reason we take care to prepare the ground carefully in order that it can support this plant. In winter we dig out a trench in the soil to a depth of about 60cm / 2ft and pile up the soil to the side. We then pile in whatever organic material is available ranging from kitchen peelings the odd bit of cut up newspaper and any soft prunings. Fill the trench about halfway with that sort of material and then pile the earth back on top.

Young alderman pea plants
Young Alderman pea plants beginning to climb

You will end up with an area which raised from the surrounding soil because more has gone into the trench compared to what was originally taken out. That’s fine, the area will settle to some degree and the remaining mound will act as a very free draining, fertile and moisture retaining soil. Perfect for tall, fast growing pea plants. A few weeks before we sow pea seeds / transplant seedling to the area we spread on some Blood, Fish and Bone at the rate of a very good handful per square metre / yard.

Alderman peas can be supported by all the normal range of canes – wigwams, rows with supports up each side or the way we prefer with two rows of canes tied together at the top. Whichever method you use be aware that this variety can become very top heavy so regular pruning / harvesting may be necessary to avoid the top area becoming congested.

Sowing the seed or transplanting seedlings and ongoing care is as described in our main pea page here.