Types of peas: an overview of the best pea varieties


With a passion for growing installed at an early age, I have always been happiest outdoors in nature. After training as a professional gardener and horticultural therapist, I currently run horticultural therapy and community kitchen gardens in the UK, helping others access the many physical and mental health benefits of growing vegetables, fruit and plants.

Favourite fruit: apples and pears
Favourite vegetable: asparagus

There is an almost overwhelming range of pea types to choose from. Discover some of the best pea varieties to help you decide what to grow.

purple pea pods on plant
As well as the traditional green, pea pods can be purple and yellow [Photo: vaivirga/ Shutterstock.com]

Along with the well-known garden pea (Pisum sativum), there are several other types of peas available to grow at home. From different shapes and sizes to even their colour, there is a pea to suit everyone’s taste and growing space. Read on to learn more about the different types of peas and the best varieties for your garden.

Types of peas: mangetout and sugar snap peas

Mangetout varieties are flat-podded, have a mild flavour and contain very small peas inside. Eaten in their entirety, when translated from French, Mangetout simply means ‘eat all’. Sugar snap peas differ from mangetout in the fact that they develop a rounder shape and have a crunchier texture. However, the pods of sugar snaps can also be eaten.

Mangetout peas

  • ‘Delikata’: a versatile pea variety that can be picked young as a mangetout or left to mature into peas that need shelling. Grows to around 75cm high. Received the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) ‘Award of Garden Merit’.
  • ‘Oregon Sugar Pod’: widely grown mangetout that produces large flat pods. Sweet flavour. Grows to around 90cm tall. RHS ‘Award of Garden Merit’.
  • ‘Shiraz’: British bred purple variety. Attractive bicoloured flowers. Grows to around 100cm tall.
  • ‘Snow Wind’: semi-leafless variety that produces high yields of dark green mangetout. Extended cropping season. Grows to around 45cm tall. RHS ‘Award of Garden Merit’.
  • ‘Sweet Sahara’: a sweet mangetout variety that develops stringless green pods. Grows to around 65cm high.
Mangetout pods growing on plant
Mangetout are eaten whole with their pods [Photo: Golden Shark 2/ Shutterstock.com]

Sugar snap peas

  • ‘Delikett’: high-yielding sugar snap variety that develops dark green pods over a long period. RHS ‘Award of Garden Merit’. Grows to around 65cm tall.
  • ‘Purple Magnolia’: unusual purple-pod sugar snap pea. Crisp and sweet. A tall variety that grows to around 180cm tall.
Purple pods of Purple Magnolia
‘Purple Magnolia’ produces deep purple sugar snap peas [Photo: Max_555/ Shutterstock.com]

Shell pea varieties

Shell peas produce either smooth or wrinkled peas that need removing from their pods before eating. Wrinkled peas generally have a sweeter taste, but being less hardy than smooth varieties, are better for later sowings. Shell peas are further classified as either early or main crop depending on when they are to be sown. These varieties tend to climb and grow into large plants that need a pea support. However, there are some dwarf pea varieties that can be grown where space is at a premium or in pots. There are also some pea varieties, such as marrowfats that can be harvested when dry, which we have covered below too.

Early peas

Early pea varieties are generally sown outdoors from March until June for picking around 12 to 14 weeks later. You can also sow them undercover in modules from February onwards to give them a head start. Early peas are sometimes further split into first early and second early categories. There is often little difference between the two apart from that first earlies can be ready to crop around 2 weeks earlier.

  • ‘Avola’: impressive first early variety that produces smooth and sweet-tasting peas. With a compact habit, it grows to around 60cm tall.
  • ‘Douce Provence’: hardy French variety suitable for sowing in autumn or spring. Reliable yields with a sweet flavour. With a dwarfing habit, it grows to around 45cm high.
  • ‘Half Pint’: also known as ‘Tom Thumb’. A hardy pea with a sweet flavour. A very compact variety that grows to 20 to 30cm tall. Suitable for containers or pots.
  • ‘Kelvedon Wonder’: widely grown early pea with high yields. Excellent flavour and disease resistance. Grows to around 50cm tall. RHS ‘Award of Garden Merit’.
  • Meteor’: a first early variety that develops high yields of small pods packed with smooth peas. Excellent flavour. Grows to around 75cm tall.
Green pods of ‘Kelvedon Wonder’
The widely grown ‘Kelvedon Wonder’ produces high yields with good disease resistance [Photo: Andrew Fletcher/ Shutterstock.com]

Maincrop pea varieties

Maincrop peas tend to grow taller than early varieties and take longer to mature, generally around 14 to 16 weeks. As with early varieties you can succession sow peas every couple of weeks from March until June for a continuous harvest over the summer.

  • ‘Alderman’: a tall maincrop pea with a long cropping season. This heritage variety produces long pods of sweet-tasting large peas. Grows tall to around 180cm.
  • ‘Ambassador’: a semi-leafless pea that has good tolerance against wet weather and disease. Impressive yields of large peas. Grows to 75cm tall. RHS ‘Award of Garden Merit’.
  • ‘Champion of England’: heritage maincrop pea with impressive harvests. Sweet taste. Grows to around 3m tall.
  • ‘Hurst Greenshaft’: popular variety that produces a heavy crop of wrinkled peas over a long period. Excellent flavour. Grows to around 75cm tall. RHS ‘Award of Garden Merit’.
Pea pods and white flowers
Pea ‘Hurst Greenshaft’ produces impressive yields of wrinkled peas over a long period [Photo: Peter Turner Photography/ Shutterstock.com]
  • ‘Lincoln’: another heritage maincrop variety that develops slightly curved pods of delicious peas. Grows to 60cm tall.
  • ‘Onward’: commonly grown maincrop variety. High yields of dark green pods filled with wrinkled peas. Grows to around 75cm tall. RHS ‘Award of Garden Merit’.
  • ‘Rondo’: high yielding main crop pea that develops long pods of wrinkled peas. Grows to around 75cm tall. RHS ‘Award of Garden Merit’.

Tip: pea ‘Douce Provence’ is a hardier variety that you can sow directly outside in October or November for a pea harvest early the following year.

Marrowfat peas and other field varieties

Along with the previously mentioned pea varieties, you can also grow marrowfat or field peas. Marrowfat peas are allowed to mature longer in their pod than other varieties and are high in starch. Due to their larger size, marrowfat peas are often used for mushy peas and for canning.

Purple marrowfat peas on plant
Marrowfat peas are allowed to mature on the plant before being harvested [Photo: Leoniek van der Vliet/ Shutterstock.com]

Field peas, as their name suggests, are generally grown as a field crop either as a green manure or for animal feed. To produce a crop, they tend to be grown as above. Alternatively, you can sow them in late summer or the autumn as a green manure.

  • ‘Ambassador’: can be harvested young for a maincrop or allowed to mature further on the plant for larger marrowfat peas. Grows to around 75cm tall.
  • ‘Forage’: a field pea grown both to improve soil fertility and for animal feed. Grows to around 1m tall.
  • ‘Maro’: large marrowfat peas ideal for making mushy peas or for stews. Grows to around 90cm tall.
White flowers of field peas
Field peas are grown for animal feed or as a green manure [Photo: Pam Walker/ Shutterstock.com]

If all of this has got your taste buds watering, why not try growing your own peas? Discover all there is to know about planting peas in our separate article.