April 19, 2011

Plant of the month: Lupine

I planted Lupines (Lupinus polyphyllus) for the first time more than 20 years ago. It was one of the first perennials I tried in my first backyard garden. (It's listed by some sources as technically a biennial.) I planted it from seed, directly into the ground, in May. It reappeared and thrived each year we lived at that first house.

After moving, I didn’t plant Lupines for several years. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it was the limited space for sun-loving plants, or maybe it was a desire to try plants I hadn’t tried before.

But about five years ago, I decided it was time again to welcome Lupines into my garden. This time, instead of seeds I started with a small plant, which worked just as effectively. Once again, Lupines are a highlight of my garden—returning and producing knockout blooms year after year. Here are a few vitals on Lupines:

  • Prefer full sun;
  • Thrive in zones 3-8;
  • Excellent cut line flowers in a bouquet, as a single species bunch in a broad vase, or as a solitary flower in a tall vase;
  • Members of the Legume family, so they’re great companions to just about any other plant since they return needed nitrogen to the soil;
  • Available in a rainbow of colors—brights and pastels—from pale pink to vibrant bold blue, bicolor varieties;
  • May need staking in open, wind-blown areas; although mine are in the middle of my sunny garden spot, placed against the wall, and require no staking; and
  • Feature 10- to 12-inch flower spikes on tall stems.

But one of the niftiest features of Lupines is their foliage, which is almost as fascinating as the spiky flower whorls. My plants emerged in March this year, and they’re continuing to slowly grow as the light and temperatures increase.

March 31

April 7

April 14

In May the flowers will form, and I expect they’ll be at their peak of beauty in early June.

On another, more personal note: I apologize to gardening and Blotanical friends for neglecting blog visits recently. I've been a bit preoccupied. My youngest performed in her senior dance recital this past weekend. It’s a transition for all of us. No more tutus or tight buns. And like many transitions, we celebrated her success with flowers.

(Yes, those are Oak leaves I need to rake and a light snowfall I'm choosing to ignore in the background.)


  1. Love the lupines, Mine were spectacular last year... hopefully they are as good this year.

    Congrats to the dancer!

  2. Beautiful lupine Beth! Looks just like our State flower, the Texas bluebonnet which is a sure sign of spring in South Texas! I've seen many of these pink lupines in the meadows in Colorado...so beautiful.

  3. I don't know why, but I've always been a bit afraid to plant these. You may have convinced me to give them a try! Pretty flowers. I bet she was proud. Sorry about the snow!

  4. @David: Thanks! Do you have photos of the Lupines posted on your blog?

    @Diane: I've heard so many wonderful things about the Texas Bluebonnet! Must be beautiful blooming out on the prairies.

    @Holley: They are so easy. And they do look so nice in bouquets. I'm picturing several of them in a bouquet with some of your roses!

  5. I was delighted to see this post on Lupines - I've never grown them before but have a good number of seedlings started to put in the garden this year. Now I can't wait to get them established and see those beautiful blooms!

  6. I've never grown lupins, but I do love the foliage, and as MIL loves the flowers I think they will have a future in our future, if you see what I mean - assuming we move to somewhere with lots of room for sun lovers. I'd love that, I don't have much full sun in my current garden.

    And no need to apologise - these transitions are really important, and we all have periods where we have to disappear off into "real life" for a while! Congratulations on raising a dancer as well as flowers ;-)

  7. so love lupines and have native ones in the meadow as well..they are so lovely in a garden...

  8. I love lupines but they can't take our heat so I grow thermopsis, commonly called Carolina Lupines. Yours are really beautiful! No apologies needed. I almost burst into tears yesterday when I bought my daughter a card for her 16th birthday. Family first, blogs... much farther on down the line!! :o)

  9. I love lupines but they are not reliable here.They may return, but not for long after. The clay may be their problem or the wet winter, but they are never all that happy.

  10. Hi Beth, thanks for reminding me Lupines! I also grew them many years ago in a former garden, and I could try again...
    Congrats to your youngest daughter!

  11. i love lupines! i have seen fields of wild ones in CANADA!! I have tried to grow from seed but only have been successful with live plants.

  12. @Ginny: I'll look forward to seeing photos of your new Lupine plants in your garden!

    @Janet: Thanks! I can't believe she'll be graduating in less than two months. Regarding the Lupines, yes, I wish I had more sun, too. I'm a little stingy with the little sunny space that I have.

    @Donna: I've never seen a meadow full of Lupines, but in pictures they look amazing!

    @TS: I figured Lupines could grow in zones 3-10. They bake in the sun on the west side of my house and do just fine. Thanks for understanding. Sounds like you're pretty busy with a teenager, too.

  13. @Greenapples: Sorry to hear that. But I suppose you can grow some plants that don't do as well here.

    @Dona: I imagine Lupines would thrive in the Italian climates and soil!

    @Gabrielle: Fields of wild Lupines -- that I would like to see!

  14. an apt posting as I've recently sown lupins (as we call them) for the first time in many years. Actually they are non-natives (gasp!) as my sister sent them from Maine.Still tiny and a little sickly looking but hope they make it through as strong and healthy as yours.
    A pretty and poignanat picture of your daughter's shoes and flowers

  15. I have tried them several times with little repeat success. They are quite beautiful and I almost love the leaves more than the flowers. Is that possible? I will try again in another place. Great tips and no worries about visiting blogs and blogging. It is the icing on the cake of life and sometimes one must just eat the cake.

  16. hello Beth, thanks for stopping by my blog, I grow lupines though they are not native to Britain, I tried to plant a damp meadow with natives but it just was not working so now it has a bit of a mix, my garden gets full sun and is exposed to full salt ladden gales! I read that lupine likes damp acid full sun and that is exactly what my damp meadow is, bonus they fix nitrogen in the soil for my other plants, they have thrived so well I have just added 2 more,

    congrats to the dancer and to mum for all the support you given her, Frances

  17. @Laura: I would have thought that the British Isles would have had native Lupines, too. They are a beautiful, stately flower!

    @Layanee: Thanks for understanding. I'm just now getting back to catch up on previous posts. It's so fun to chat and comment and post. Just a bit of a limit on time right now. :)

    @Frances: Sounds like the perfect place for them! I would love to see a photo. I'll check back to see your blog as the season progresses. Thanks for the well wishes. :)

  18. I love lupines! I had one plant that lived a few years, but the others I've tried since, have not survived the winters. Yours sure is a beauty!

  19. @Sue: You'll have to try Lupines again! Once they get established, they're pretty reliable. And they're so unique!

  20. I did some plant shopping today, and almost got a couple to try again, but didn't, because I told myself I should give up trying. Maybe I will try again. Thanks for the encouragement.