Before I get carried away with the peonies, I think I should just pause to appreciate the lupins. I cannot deny that the peonies are keeping me on the edge of my seat. Look at ‘Red Charm’. It’s like its peeping out from under the covers deciding whether to put in an appearance today.
So I am going to ignore the peonies. The ants can do their work. (Ants eat the sweet sticky stuff around peony buds, helping them open, so don’t be alarmed).
Let’s focus on the lupins. This is ‘Thunderclouds’, grown from seed last year, and now flowering prodigiously. I’ve never noticed before the wispy calyx that nestles the newly-opened flowers. It is like a fur stole, soon to be carelessly dropped as the flowers relax.
Lupins are part of the pea family, which you can see in the flower shape. As they open out they each get a hood, often in a contrasting colour. I love the curve on them, each one shaped like a kayak. Look at the lovely veining on these, like the grain of wood:
Here is Lupin ‘Thunderclouds’ in its massed glory. I can’t help thinking of a city-scape when I see lots of spires of lupins together, hence the ‘Lupin-otropolis’ title.
And here again, just for good measure.
Last year, the Star Lupin Award went to ‘Gallery Red’. It is only just getting going this year, still looking like this:
So I will cheat and show you the pics from last year. Here it is with the Euphorbias, the ones in the back row just peering over the heads of the others:
And a little later on, going a little bendy and practising interpretive dance, with Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’:
My most coveted plant is Lupin ‘Masterpiece’ , which made me swoon in Chris Beardshaw’s Chelsea Garden a couple of years ago. It is deepest blue-on-the-edge-of-purple with magenta-orange (Orange! My Cup Runneth Over!) hoods. I am biding my time. It is patented and cannot be bought as seed yet.
Lupins are grown easily from seed. Sow in early spring, prick out, pot on and wait until they are a foot high before planting out in early summer. They will flower lightly in the first year and plentifully from then on.
I deadhead each flower as soon as the flowers at the top are fully open and it has started to produce furry seedpods at the base of the stem. There comes a point in July when a lupin is looking distinctly raggedy. This is not a lupin’s preferred state, and so I help it to retain its dignity by shearing off all the foliage to the ground. It thanks me for my compassion by producing lovely fresh foliage, and sometimes a smaller flush of flowers.
Lupins are supposed to be fairly short-lived: my ‘Gallery Red’ is now five years’ old, and perhaps a little less full than last year, but that could be due to encroaching euphorbia. Lupins apparently resent root disturbance, but I have successfully transplanted them, allowing for their long tap-root. My mum always tells me that lupins are slug-fodder, but I seem to have been blessed with slugs with a lupin intolerance.
Lupins are so-named because they grew in the wild on otherwise barren soil. It was assumed that they were wolf-like, robbing the soil of nutrients. In fact, being peas, they are nitrogen-fixing, enriching the soil.
Do you have a favourite lupin? Have you ever seen lupins growing wild? Apologies to all those around the world who call them lupines!