West Country Lupins

 In Hardy perennials, New Varieties, Plant breeding, Plant Focus

West Country Lupins have been developed high up on Exmoor.

It’s not the place that I would choose to build a nursery but Woolsery is where that classic of the cottage garden the lupin has been refined and immeasurably improved!

Woolsery is on the western edge of Exmoor but you can see the newer varieties of lupins displayed at RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May.

The Nursery

pink and red lupin flowers

Pink and red lupins

West Country Nurseries are based in this remote part of the West Country and it is a place that I have passed through on several occasions in pursuit of that most sporting game bird the snipe!

Lupins had changed little since the introduction of Russell Hybrids by Bakers Nursery in 1939.

This caused a sensation at the time and little wonder that Russell Hybrid lupins were a contender for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Centenary. However it was Geranium Rozanne that took that accolade.






Shorter stems

lupin, gallery yellow, flowers

Gallery Yellow lupin

Shorter, more robust hybrids followed with Gallery and Lulu hybrids.

However the new varieties of West Country Lupins are a ‘step change’ in performance!

Their Chelsea Flower Show exhibit is one I make a beeline to every May.

I stand there agog in front of this truly spectacular display of uniformity and clarity of colour.



New Varieties

Purple lupin flower


terracotta lupin flowers


white lupin flower

‘Polar Princess’

pink lupin flower

‘Rachel de Thane’



















Great varieties to look out for include Gladiator, Masterpiece, Red Rum, Saffron, Terracotta and Tequila Flame.

But all these selections are superior to other lupins that I’ve seen and grown.


Controlling slugs

Slugs will graze on new shoots as they emerge in late winter.

Get them past the threat of being eaten by slugs as they emerge from dormancy and half the battle is won!

I’d recommend putting a note in your diary to apply slug controls in February and March every year.

Slug bait based on ferric phosphate is effective and the only chemical treatment that I would currently recommend.

netted field slugs

Netted field slugs

I’ve used this ferric sulphate a commercial scale and, coupled with minimizing use of other chemicals, I’ve seen lots of birds and other wildlife among the plants. I’ve never seen evidence of this material causing harm.

If you would prefer not to use chemicals then the RSPB has some good suggestions here.

But in future years when established in flower borders it is advisable to drench the soil to control soil dwelling slugs. Nematodes give good control but timing and soil moisture and temperature needs to be right.

There are several suppliers but Nemaslug is the market leader and there are several suppliers. I’ve used Gardening Naturally to source mine.

You see slugs have this annoying habit of nibbling off new shoots whilst still underground. And consequently you never see anything emerge!

Gypsophila, Hosta and of course Delphinium suffer the same plight and so treat them too.


Controlling aphids

aphids on dahlia shoot

Aphids on dahlia

Aphids are another pest to watch out for.

Now aphid that attacks juicy young shoot tips of lupins are big and easily seen.

So as soon as you see wash them off with water. You may need to spray with a suitable insecticide.

It is vital to control aphids as they will cause the stems to be distorted. Often their attack leads to blind blooms as the immature flower buds fall off.

Control of aphids is very important as they are vectors for virus and spread it from plant to plant.


Soils preferred

Lupins prefer soil that is not too rich and do best where the soil pH is slightly acid. I’ve explained the importance of soil pH here.

As a member of the Papilionaceae family [formerly Leguminosae] their nutrient needs are very low.

In time will ‘fix’ their own nitrogen in the way that clover, beans and other members of this family do.

Plant in full or part sun but avoid too much shade.


I’ve written about other tall garden perennials, including Delphinium, here.


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