Loveable lupins

The Chelsea Flower Show is a floral feast and smells divine and for the last few years, the star performers have been alliums. This year lupins have stolen the crown and the mood seems to have moved away from naturalistic planting to more of romantic, country garden style.

The peppery scent of lupins is one of those distinctive and memorable smells that can bring vivid childhood memories back to life

A favourite in cottage gardens for almost 200 years, lupins have stood the test of time and now it appears that they set to become just as popular today as they have always been

These plants pre-date WW2 as a favourite in British gardens and produce tall spikes clothed with pepper-scented pea-shaped blooms in every colour of the rainbow. Their spiky blooms, which tower above lush mounds of starry leaves look good for around two months and look stunning in both informal flowerbeds and contemporary design schemes and they are useful for bringing in bees, butterflies and moths.

Grow them in a sunny spot in light, free draining, sandy soil that is slightly acid or neutral. For bes effect, plant three or five plants of each variety together and arrange them in interlocking drifts. After planting give the plants a sprinkling of blood, fish and bone to get plants off to a good start

There are dwarf lupins that shoot up to about 60cm making them suitable for smaller gardens and even containers. Excellent varieties to look out for are Gallery and Tiny Tot

Regular varieties, also listed in catalogues as Tall Lupins, will grow to a height of 1m to 1.2m depending on soil and weather conditions. All types of lupin are strong enough to support themselves, even in windy conditions and do not need staking.

The spiky blooms contrast well with daisy-like and bold lily blooms as well as blousy blossoms like those of peonies, bearded iris, oriental poppies and hardy geraniums that all flower at the same time

Bring out the romantic in you by selecting plants with a soft colour palette and varied texture. A combination of lupins, lavender and statice in shades of blue with a sprinkling of pink and white for example will make you feel cool, calm and collected, so is a perfect scheme for a border that surrounds a sitting area where you like to relax at the end of a tiring day.

Caring for the plants couldn’t be easier. Protect the emerging foliage in spring from slugs and snails and remove the spent flower spikes to prolong flowering giving a second flush of smaller blooms in August – they will however, lose vigour if the pea-like seeds are allowed to form. Be aware though that lupins do not take too kindly being chopped hard back after flowering and will take months to recover.

Aphids can become a problem, so keep your eyes peeled from spring onwards for the large, greyish-white aphids, up to 4mm long, on the underside of leaves and on the flower spikes. They are sap sucking and the honeydew they excrete leaves a sticky mess behind. Avoid using chemicals as these will kill off pollinators. Instead biological controls such as soap sprays.

If you failed to remove the seedpods, by the end of the summer you will find them clinging to the plant but brown, twisted and empty having ripened their seeds and flung them around the area.

Self-sown plants that sprout can be dug up and relocated to a spot where you want them to flower. Don’t bother digging up and dividing older plants as their long taproots usually die if dug

These short-lived perennials will only look their best for three to five years then exhausted plants will need replacing with new plants. Seed-raised plants will bloom within two months of sowing. You can start seeds off in mid to late-February for a summer display the same year or wait until autumn and over winter the plants for a display next summer.

A great variety is Tutti Fruitti from T&M (, which is 100cm tall and flowers prolifically in its first year of sowing, producing a mouthwatering range of attractive bicoloured and solid coloured flowers, in many different colour tones

As well as herbaceous lupins there is a tree lupin, Lupinus arboreus, which is a lovely shrub with fine foliage and short, creamy flower spikes. Being a legume, it is good on poor ground, as its roots fix their own nitrogen.

The tree lupin (Lupinus arboreus) is also short-lived, making a shrub of about a metre across which comes into its own like a perennial stock in the second year and has a final fling in the third year, before falling apart

For a great selection of varieties visit


Lupins may also become the next superfood, although anyone affected by nut allergies will need to avoid it. The seeds can be ground up as gluten-free flour to use in bread, pastries and even pasta and you can already buy this flour from health shops and on-line.

The seeds are 40 to 45 per cent protein, 25 to 30 per cent dietary fibre and they have little or no starch and are low in oil, which makes them useful in fighting obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and insulin insensitivity – all risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

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