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.
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.