Hardy character will bring colour to autumn

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Years ago, a garden wasn’t a “proper” garden unless it had a patch or two of lupins.

The lupin was an old cottage-garden favourite, a stalwart whose colourful flowers appeared from early summer onwards. Unfortunately, they are a particular favourite of slugs and snails, so young plants need protecting from attack.

They’re also vulnerable to frost damage over winter and in early spring, so cover the crown of the plant with a mulch to help it survive.

Then there’s the dreaded aphids. And as if that wasn’t enough, there’s a nasty little fungal disease called Lupin anthracnose which affects the leaves and stems.

So lupins gradually lost their appeal. Until now because this lovely flower is starting to re-appear in numbers.

Lupins can grow quite tall, so staking young plants to ensure they don’t break should see them making a big impact in the herbaceous border. Deadheading will encourage a second flush of flowers.

And then there’s that tag of “cottage garden favourite”; they’ve been grown for decades and it’s difficult to turn away from something which, given the right conditions and care, can really add to even the smallest and dullest of gardens.

Strangely, it wasn’t until 80 years or so ago that lupins really came of age – thanks to the introduction of the Russell Hybrids, named after York horticulturalist George Russell.

He spent two decades striving to breed the perfect lupin, crossing L polyphyllus with L arboreus and one or more annual species, keeping the good and discarding the poor. The results are what we see in today’s plants – a riot of colour instead of what was basically blue, and consistent shape with flowers spikes packed from top to bottom.

Lupins like a well-drained soil and plenty of sun, and although they are not the longest-lived of perennials, they are easy to replace – sow seed under glass in spring or plant basal cuttings in March. Alternatively, buy named varieties of plants from a recognised grower or specialist.

Left to their own devices, lupins will spread and self-seed, which explains why in some places they can be seen growing wild.