A few of my favourite things…

No raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens: but June is when most gardens are looking their best and it is when many of my favourite flowers are peaking; including peonies, iris and lupins.

It has taken me a long time to really appreciate lupins. Like so many opinions, mine was set early in life and because we lived on grey, chalky clay, the lupins always struggled. I can still see the chlorotic, yellow foliage, poor growth and weak spires of pink flowers and shudder. More recent memories of collapsing stems of black pods augmented by mildew-covered leaves and fat snails shearing off the blooms up the spikes hardly endear the plants to me. But that is all a bit unfair. All these are potential problems but lupins can be easy and reliable too and rarely short of spectacular.

My plants, at present, are all ‘Cathy’s Ghost’ a white, seed-raised variety. Like most seed-raised plants it is a little variable in shade – some being slightly creamy and others have the faintest pink tinge. Over the past three years, some died and the ‘best’ survived. I must collect seeds this year because I only have white plants in the garden and they should breed fairly true. The plant above is now in it’s third year and is a single plant.

Now is a good time to sow lupin seeds. You will have strong plants to put out in autumn and these will bloom well next year. It is always worth buying good (expensive) seeds because poor strains will produce gappy spikes. I am not saying that my plants are show-winners but they do have well-filled spikes.

A few tips:

Lupins prefer a light, well-drained soil but they are doable in other soils – as my plants testify.

More plants ‘die’ because of attack by slugs and snails, in spring, than anything else. You must protect the plants from attack. Both are most common on heavy, clay soils and snails are more common in alkaline soils. Slugs tend to eat near the ground but snails will venture up the stalks to eat flowers and buds with no fear of heights.

Very good plants can be propagated by cuttings of basal shoots in spring. The mature, hollow stems now will not root.

Plants flower and live longer if you stop them setting seed. Cut off the flower spikes when all the flowers have faded- back down to the top mature leaf so you get a second flush of bloom from the plants.

Plants are best when young and can get woody and start to fail after three years.

Powdery mildew is inevitable in dry weather. Cut the plants back to remove the infected foliage, give the plants a soak and some fertiliser and new foliage will be healthy.

If you buy plants now, keep them moist and remove the flower spike immediately the flowers fade. When you buy them, select plants that have some basal shoots as well as a tall flower spike. Small plants, in small plants, that are simply a tall flower spike are more likely to die after the effort of blooming and never establish. For the same money you can get a pack of good seed and grow 50 plants.

When sowing, soak the seeds overnight, if you like, sow in pots at ambient temperature and transplant into individual cell cells to grow on.

It is time to sow foxgloves too. There are many species but the common, native Digitalis purpurea is biennial, blooming and then dying after setting seed. My plants were all sown last spring and this is ‘Sutton’s Apricot’ though the colour is not quite as I remember it. Whatever, it is a nice colour. Foxgloves are not difficult to grow but they are fiddly. The seeds need light to germinate so do not cover them when they are sown. Keep them moist and cool as they germinate. The seedlings are tiny and delicate so you need to wait till each seedling has a few true leaves before you try to handle them and transplant them. They can then be planted out in early autumn, to grow on a little before winter and will bloom next year.

My beloved iris are starting to bloom and this is the first year I am getting a decent show after the hard time they have had being nomadic for several years. Here ‘Afternoon in Rio’ is looking very attractive nestling in a cloud of polemonium and astrantia with a dierama in the background.

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5 Comments on “A few of my favourite things…”

  1. Paddy Tobin
    June 9, 2021 at 9:04 am #

    Favourite things change week on week with me as the next nice thing appears. White foxgloves, bearded iris and those big flaming red poppies are today’s winners.

  2. Meriel
    June 10, 2021 at 12:24 am #

    Your Lupins are fab, as are the other favs too. I wish mine were half as good. My Pattys Peach Poppy (I think) is exceptional this year and I’ve a few peachy Lupins nearby. All my bearded Iris a disaster. I suppose I need to divide, enrich the soil and replant! Not one flower on Modern Woman although the foliage is strong enough. It was so strong other years since you gave it to me. I managed to save one tiny piece of Night Train – safe in a pot!

    • thebikinggardener
      June 10, 2021 at 3:56 pm #

      It may be that you need to divide the iris but I know that the cold April was a trial for some of them. Good that the plants themselves are well. I have a desire to grow more lupins now but it is so easy to get carried away and plant for June – and I need to think about later months.

  3. tonytomeo
    June 10, 2021 at 3:51 am #

    WOW, they are so WHITE (my favorite color)! I have yet to grow garden varieties lupins. The native wildflower lupins are alluringly blue, but rather diminutive and quick to finish bloom. The others that I want to try are not much better. I just do not garden in a style that would accommodate such impressive bloom. However, it is nice to see them in other gardens.

  4. LoseWeightWithAng
    June 11, 2021 at 12:54 pm #

    Those lupins are lovely. They grow everywhere around Nova Scotia. So much so that they are seen almost as a weed.

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