Originally Lupins (Lupinus polyphyllus) were introduced into Britain from North America in 1826. This traditional cottage garden perennial had the plain blue flowered spikes, occasionally with some whiter flowers. Fast forward to 1937 and the RHS awarded its highest honour to a ‘jobbing gardener’ George Russell for developing a strain of Lupins that caused a sensation.
George Russell developed his Lupins by rigorous selection of seedlings, aiming and achieving a central stalk or spike totally obscured by colourful flowers. Bred for a long flowering period with unbeatable garden performance, he produced one of the most popular and distinctive plants in history, the ever popular ‘Russell Hybrids’
The Russell Hybrids 'Band of Nobles’ series bloom in a magical array of strong colours. In some colourways the standard (the upper petal, occasionally called the 'flag') is often white or a shade or two lighter.
Growing to around 90 to 120cm (3 to 4ft) in height, the plant forms a well-established, leafy foundation with several flowering stems rising out of a single base.
Tall spires of tightly packed flowers rise above beautiful green clumps of palmate foliage. The flowers open from the bottom up making for a longer blooming period.
Lupins are very hardy plants, surviving extreme temperatures withstanding frost to at least minus 25°C (-13°F). Extremely attractive to bees and other pollinating insects, they create a strong impression in borders, ideal for adding colour, height and structure.
‘Band of Nobles’ is available in a range of fabulous single colours as well as a mix.
- Chandelier - Golden yellow with lighter standard.
- My Castle - Rich crimson-red shades.
- Noble Maiden - Ivory white.
- The Chatelaine - Seductive pink with a white standard.
- The Governor - Ultramarine blue with white standard.
- The Pages - Shades of glowing carmine.
Sowing: February to June, or September to October
Lupins are easy to grow from seed sown singly into small pots of loam-based seed compost.
Sow lupin seeds during spring or in autumn. Soak seed overnight before sowing and germinate at 20 to 30°C (68 to 86°F) on the surface of good free-draining, damp seed compost. Apply a layer of compost or vermiculite, 3mm (1/8in) deep and place in a propagator or seal container inside a polythene bag until after germination which usually takes 18 to 21 days.
Transplant when large enough to handle into 7.5cm (3in) pots and place in cooler conditions. Young plants need to be potted on frequently, two or three times or whenever their large, leguminous roots stick out of the pot. If you wait until they are at least 30cm (12in) tall before putting them out so that you get good strong garden plant. Plant out after all risk of frost, 30cm (12in) apart.
In the garden Lupins are quite undemanding, they will do well in full sun or in partial shade, but for best flowering plant in a position in full sun with well-drained neutral to slightly acid soil that has reliable moisture during the growing season
When planting, the ground should be cultivated thoroughly but there is no need to add compost or rich food. A handful of organic bonemeal should be worked into the surface first and, if the soil is heavy, dig in half a bucket of sharp grit or gravel. Lupins usually grow long taproots while they develop. Do not disturb growing Lupines as it can damage their long taproots. A fully mature Lupine has a taproot nearly 30cm (12in) long.
Lupines love well-watered areas to grow properly. Water for 10 minutes to keep the plants moist and on peak summer days, you should water for double this time as the soil can dry out too quickly.
In exposed areas you may consider staking the flowers. When in bloom, use a good all-purpose fertiliser once a month. Pruning Lupins promote the growth of new blossoms, to prolong flowering well into September, use good pruning shears to cut back spent flowers so that new shoots are produced on the side axles.
Beds and borders, Cottage/Informal, Flower Arranging, Coastal.
Note: Ingestion of any part of a Lupinus plant or seeds can cause gastrointestinal upset or more severe symptoms if large quantities are consumed.
Lupins as a Green Manure:
Lupins are rightly regarded as a Green Manure or a crop that makes soil richer. The plants use the nodules of their long taproots to catch nitrogen which is necessary for its survival as a leguminous plant.
Lupins have deep taproots which make it highly useful in aerating soil, or supplying it with oxygen. This enriches the soil and helps create a better environment for growth, making it more beneficial for other plants growing nearby.
Lupinus polyphyllus is native to western North America. It is found on moist, generally well-drained soils; in mesic mountain forests, meadows, sage brush and pine forests, often on riversides.
A member of the legume family Fabaceae, there are approximately 280 species. Most of these are perennial plants that can grow anywhere between 30 to 150cm (1 to 5 ft) in height. However, there are exceptions in Bush Lupins that can grow to 3 metres (10ft) tall and a Mexican variety that rises to more than 6 metres (20ft) in length.
Three Mediterranean species of lupin, Blue Lupin, White Lupin, and Yellow Lupin (L. luteus) are widely cultivated for livestock and poultry feed.
The genus takes its name from the Latin lupus, meaning wolfish, in reference to the mistaken belief that this plant devours nutrients from the soil. The peas, commonly known as “Wolf Beans” appear after the flowering period, were also said to be fit only for the consumption of wolves.
The species name is from the Latin poly which, in compound words signifies 'many' or 'much', and phyllus meaning 'leaves' or 'foliage', so means 'many leaved'.
Lupins polyphyllus, also known as Lupinus or Lupines are commonly called Large-leaved or Big-leaved Lupin
The herbaceous lupin, Lupinus polyphyllus, arrived in Britain from North America in the 1820s brought over by David Douglas. Almost a century later, George Russell, a 53-year-old horticulturalist from UK York started to breed the famous Russell hybrids (Lupinus x russellii hort). Lupinus polphyllus originally were of basic colours and had large gaps in the flowering spike.
Without the use of modern day plant breeding techniques, Russell took to ruthlessly pulling out any plants which he deemed to be unacceptable in growth or display. He spent two decades single-mindedly trying to breed the perfect lupin, crossing L. polyphyllus with L. arboreus and one or more annual species (maybe L. nootkatensis).
Over the decades the plants he selected developed flower spikes which were denser, larger and more colourful than the original Lupinus polyphyllus. His work may have gone unrecognised if he had not been encouraged, by another nurseryman called James Baker, to show the plants to the public. It is understood the pair worked together for several years to perfect the Russell Hybrid, before they were displayed at the Royal Horticultural Society's June show in 1937 – where their brightly coloured, tightly packed spires won awards . He was later awarded an MBE and the Royal Horticultural Society awarded him the Veitch Memorial Medal for a lifetime's achievement in horticulture.
Baker later secured Russell's entire stock, in their heyday, Bakers attracted 80,000 visitors in June to see 40 acres (16 ha) of lupins in flower. The templates created by Russell are still used by other specialist lupin horticulturalists today.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 2 grams Average Seed Count 90 Seeds Seed Form Natural Seeds per gram 45 to 50 seeds per gram Family Fabaceae Genus Lupinus Species x russellii Cultivar Band of Nobles Synonym Lupinus regalis Common Name Lupin Russell Hybrids Other Common Names Large-leaved, Big-leaved or Garden Lupin Other Language Names Lupine, Lupines. Lupin de Russell Hardiness Hardy Perennial Hardy Hardy to at least minus 25°C (-13°F) Flowers Mixed colours - the 'Band of Nobles' series Natural Flower Time June to August Height 90 to 120cm (3 to 4ft). Spread 70cm (28in) Position Full sun or semi shade Soil Prefers reliably moist, free draining soil - light and moderately fertile Time to Sow February to June, or September to October