Our expert gardening writer, Amicia Oldfield, tells us how to grow and look after lupins and reveals her plans for them at her fabulous garden, Doddington Place, Kent
It is not surprising that lupins are one of the most popular plants at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show every year for they are one of the most reliable herbaceous perennials to flower in late May/early June. Classic examples of the much loved English Cottage Garden style, they are also easy to grow.
Where to plant lupins
Fully hardy, lupins do well in moist, well-drained, slightly acidic sandy soil, but they can be grown in most garden conditions with the exception of chalky and water-logged soils.
They are best in full sun but will tolerate light shade. Where they are to be planted needs to be carefully thought about as they grow long tap roots and don’t like being moved. They should be planted 50-100 cm apart with the plant crown at soil level. Dotted en masse in clumps of three or five in an herbaceous border, lupins provide structure - growing to a height of 1m to 1.2 m - and a pop of colour.
How to care for lupins
If dead-headed correctly after flowering, sometimes a second flush of flowers is possible. When the spent blooms have turned into furry pea pods, cut them off leaving the leaves intact. In winter, cover the crown of the plants to protect against frost damage. But watch out for snails and slugs which are partial to them particularly when young.
How lupins got their colour
I like using lots of colour at Doddington and it is thanks to jobbing gardener George Russell (1857-1951) that we have the most common gaily coloured lupins, the Russell Strain which is still available today. He thought the lupins in a vase at the home of his employer, a Mrs Micklethwaite in Yorkshire, were woefully insipid so he embarked on a rigorous breeding project.
He spent the next two decades attempting to breed the perfect specimen on his allotment using natural pollination with bumble bees. He didn’t approve of hand pollination.
Clearly a modest man, Russell didn’t sell his plants but eventually was (luckily for us) persuaded by James Baker, a nurseryman in Codsall near Wolverhampton, to exhibit his lupins at the Royal Horticultural Society’s June show in 1937 at the age of 79.
They were greeted with much acclaim. ‘My first impression was indescribable: never before have I seen such marvellous colouring or been thrilled by such rich exotic blendings and I can safely say I have seen every “worthwhile” plant or race of plants introduced in the past forty years,’ wrote D.W. Simmons of the RHS floral committee in 1937. Nearly a hundred years later, lupins are still a winner in any herbaceous scheme.
Doddington Place Gardens, Sittingbourne, Kent, will open on 3rd, 10th & 20th April for the National Garden Scheme (NGS). They open from Easter Day until the end of September, Every Sunday, Wednesday and Bank Holiday Mondays 11am-5pm.