Gardens Illustrated
Lupinus 'Red Arrow'
© Jason Ingram

Lupins: how to grow, plus 16 of the best varieties

Published: May 12, 2022 at 9:54 am
Half Price Sale!- 13 issues of Gardens Illustrated for just £30

Spires of dazzling colour in late spring, lupins are once more gaining in popularity and earning their rightful place in our gardens. Nurseryman John Hoyland shares his advice for how to grow lupins and where to plant them. Photographs Jason Ingram

George Russell, a jobbing gardener, was in his 50s when he decided to breed lupins that had the vigour and colour that was missing from the ones he knew. In his mind’s eye he saw brightly coloured lupins dancing in his Yorkshire garden. Over the next 20 years, working alone on his allotments, he crossed seedlings, ruthlessly weeding out the inferior ones and recrossing the best, until he had produced a range with flowers of dazzling colours.

Advertisement

Lupins were first brought to Britain in the 1820s by plant explorer David Douglas (his eponymous fir tree was collected at the same time). The plant grows to about 1.2m tall and has flowers that range from blue to pale violet, often with a dark stem. Although the genus consists of about 275 annual, perennial and shrubby species from North and South America, Europe and Africa, Lupinus polyphyllus is one of the very few that has made the leap from the wild into gardens.

IN BRIEF

What Genus of mainly herbaceous perennial plants with some shrubs and annuals. Over 275 species, of which very few are used in horticulture.

Origins Most are from North America with a few from the Mediterranean area. In some regions, notably Australia, introduced plants have become invasive species.

Size From 30cm to 2m.

Conditions In general, lupins prefer well-drained soil in full sun.

Uses A member of the legume family, Fabaceae, lupins are used in agriculture to fix nitrogen into the soil and as an animal feed.

Propagating named cultivars of lupins by cuttings is a slow process. Most plants that are available at nurseries and garden centres are seed-grown and several seed strains have been developed by plant breeders. The Gallery series is a group of low-growing lupins, usually about 50cm tall, that have mainly yellow, orange or red flowers. They will flower during the first year after the seed is sown. The seed is often sold as a mixture but you can occasionally find single-colour seed. Lupinus ‘Gallery Red’ is worth growing for the intense colour of the flowers.

The oddly named Band of Nobles Series seed strain is much taller, with plants growing as high as 1.2m. Again, they are usually sold as mixed seed but several of the series have been named. Lupinus ‘The Governor’ is particularly striking, with flowers that have two white upper petals and three indigo-blue lower ones.

The Tutti Frutti seed range contains a high proportion of plants that have bi-coloured flowers. While these species have not caught on with gardeners, lupin hybrids have been popular since Gertrude Jekyll advocated their use as strong vertical accents among irises and lilies. Jekyll was fond of white-flowered lupins, one of the best of which is Lupinus ‘Polar Princess’, a compact plant with pure clean white flowers, which, at 60cm tall, is shorter than most. I grow it in front of a taller hybrid, Lupinus ‘Masterpiece’, one of the best-named cultivars to have been introduced recently. The flower stems are packed with dark-blue buds that open to purple flowers. As the flower matures an orange speck develops at the base of each petal.

The lupins produced by modern plant breeders can be traced back 100 years to George Russell’s imagination. During that time their popularity has ebbed and flowed, but there will always be a place for them in my garden.

How to grow lupins

Where to grow lupins

Lupins are best in an open, sunny situation in well-drained soil. In rich soil they produce lots of foliage and few flowers, so don’t manure the soil before you plant them. Conventional wisdom has it they won’t grow on chalky soils but, while they are more vigorous in acidic loam, they do grow perfectly well on my chalky soil.

What to do with lupins after flowering

Cut down the flower stems as soon as the flowers are done. Not only are they ugly but the masses of seed the plant produces eventually weakens it and so shortens its life.

Lupin problems

North American lupin aphids arrived in Britain 30 years ago and are now widespread. These are about 4mm long, much larger than most aphids, and left unchecked will rapidly form large colonies that cause the plant to wilt. According to the Royal Horticultural Society, native hoverflies and ladybirds are not drawn to lupin aphids. As soon as you see them (they’ll probably be hiding on the undersides of the leaves) wipe them off or spray with soapy water. If you use chemicals, there are lots around that will deal with the pest.

The aphids help the spread of viruses, and in particular, the cucumber mosaic virus. Despite its name the virus attacks a wide range of plants, including lupins. The first sign is yellow mottling on the leaves, followed by distorted foliage and stunted growth. Dig the plant up and burn it to kill the virus.

16 lupins to grow

Lupinus ‘Masterpiece' PBR*

Lupinus 'Masterpiece'
Lupinus 'Masterpiece' © Jason Ingram

The intense purple spires of this recently introduced hybrid have made it an instant hit. Each petal has a glowing orange fleck at the base. Grows to about 1m tall and flowers in June and July. *Plant breeder’s rights claimed

Lupinus ‘African Sunset’

Lupinus 'African Sunset'
Lupinus 'African Sunset' © Jason Ingram

The flowers are yellow and pink, the latter fading to peach as the plant matures. Usually about 60cm tall.

Lupinus ‘Red Arrow’ PBR

Lupinus 'Red Arrow'
Lupinus 'Red Arrow' © Jason Ingram

Brilliant red flowers on dark stems in early May. Grows to 90cm tall.

Lupinus ‘Towering Inferno’

Lupinus 'Towering Inferno'
Lupinus 'Towering Inferno' © Jason Ingram

Deep orange flowers that are speckled with yellow at the base of the petals. Flowers in June and grows to 90cm tall.

Lupinus ‘Tequila Flame’ PBR

Lupinus 'Tequila Flame'
Lupinus 'Tequila Flame' © Jason Ingram

A startling combination of bright red and yellow flowers on a 60cm-tall stem. Flowers in July.

Lupinus ‘Polar Princess’

Lupinus 'Polar Princess'
Lupinus 'Polar Princess' © Jason Ingram

A vigorous hybrid with pure white flowers, densely packed along the stem. Flowers in July and grows to 75cm tall.

Lupinus arboreus

Sparsely flowered panicles about 30cm apart. Will quickly get to 2m tall. Produces seedlings.

Lupinus ‘Desert Sun’ PBR

Lupinus 'Desert Sun'
Lupinus 'Desert Sun' © Jason Ingram

A floriferous hybrid with buttery-cream buds that open to yellow flowers. First flowers in early June. Grows to 1m tall.

Lupinus ‘Cashmere Cream’

Lupinus 'Cashmere Cream'
Lupinus 'Cashmere Cream'

Narrow spikes of green-tinged buds that open to creamy white flowers in mid June. Grows to 1m tall.

Lupinus ‘Saffron’ PBR

Lupinus 'Saffron'
Lupinus 'Saffron' © Jason Ingram

Pale creamy-lemon flowers on short, slender spikes in late June. Grows to 60cm tall.

Lupinus ‘Bruiser’

Lupinus 'Bruiser'
Lupinus 'Bruiser'

Pale yellow buds open to yellow and purple bicoloured flowers that darken with age. Flowers late June and grows to 60cm tall.

Lupinus ‘Neptune’

Lupinus 'Neptune'
Lupinus 'Neptune' © Jason Ingram

Large blue bells mottled with white to create a polka-dot effect. Flowers from late June and grows to 75cm tall.

Lupinus ‘Jupiter’

Lupinus 'Jupiter'
Lupinus 'Jupiter' © Jason Ingram

A new introduction from Westcountry Lupins with startling bicoloured flowers. Grows to 1m tall and flowers in July.

Lupinus ‘Persian Slipper’ PBR

Lupinus 'Persian Slipper'
Lupinus 'Persian Slipper' © Jason Ingram

A compact hybrid with short fat flower spikes in Wedgwood blue. Flowers in June and grows to 60cm tall.

Lupinus ‘Manhattan Lights’ PBR

Lupinus 'Manhattan Lights'
Lupinus 'Manhattan Lights' © Jason Ingram

The tips of the petal, known as the balloon, are imperial purple with a satin sheen; the base of the petal (the fall) is soft yellow: an exotic combination that makes a dramatic statement. Grows to 90cm in height.

Where to see lupins

Westcountry Lupins, Donkey Meadow, Woolsery, Bideford EX39 5QH. Tel 01237 431111, westcountrylupins.co.uk. Customers can visit from March to mid-July but should ring first. Orders are sent out all year round or may be picked up with prior arrangement.

Where to buy lupins

Westcountry Lupins - see above.

Advertisement

Woottens of Wenhaston, Blackheath, Wenhaston, Halesworth IP19 9HD. Tel 01502 478258, woottensplants.com

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sponsored content