Singing The Blues

Mention lobelia to me, and it would conjure up humdrum municipal bedding displays or neat but rather twee windowboxes and hanging baskets, usually fixed to shops and pubs. By this time the conversation, and my thoughts, would already have moved on.

Lobelia baskets, RHS Wisley trials 2011

Until last summer, when we stumbled upon the trials of lobelia, Lobelia erinus, on a visit to RHS Wisley. As we descended the wide brick steps to the trials field, our eyes were drawn to the vivid range of blues, dotted with white and pink, on the horizon.

Trials field, RHS Wisley 2011

February’s issue of The Garden contains an interesting article on these lobelia trials, which reminded me of the stack of photographs on my computer from our trip to RHS Wisley last July, which I have yet to organise and write about.

Lobelia trials, RHS Wisley 2011It was hard not to be impressed by the stunning display of colours, in baskets and containers, each planted with seven plants in a peat free growing medium while their performance was assessed. On this single day of our visit, all the specimens looked free-flowering and voluminous. I was interested to read that from a mix of plants raised from cuttings or seed, at the end of September the five plants which received an AGM were all raised from cuttings.

Lobelia trials, RHS Wisley 2011

Along with the results of the trials, the difference in performance between seed and cutting-raised lobelias is discussed in the article, and makes an interesting read. There are pictures of a few more modern planting combinations, which have potential. Looking back at my photos now, these plants seem to sing of summer, and I wonder whether it is perhaps time for a rethink; whether we can yet find a place in our garden, and our hearts, for these rather splendid bursts of colour.

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13 thoughts on “Singing The Blues

  1. I have a bit of a soft spot for lobelia they are useful for plugging gaps in borders and containers – but seeing them displayed like this makes me feel that they deserve a bit more prominence. Just because they are common doesn’t mean they can’t be used effectively.

    • They looked stunning en masse like this. I loved the deep colours, particularly the mauve. Not something I’ve ever grown, but I am wondering now.

    • Quite. Planted with perennials to give a modern twist, or used in repeat bursts of just one or two colours, as Jane Perrone on the guardian blog suggests, could be very effective and quite a way from the pub look. Not sure about insects, as they’re not something I’ve ever grown, but you would think so: so many single flowers together in such colour.

  2. When I was a boy, my Dad used to grow Lobelia from seed, and I remember thinking as I watched him painstakingly pricking-out the tiny seedlings “How could anyone have the patience to bother with all that pfaffing about? Why not just buy some young plants?” Now I understand the challenge – and pleasure – of growing things myself and not taking the easy option.

  3. I have grown lobelia in the past for baskets – both from plug plants and seed but I tend to do less and less hanging baskets these days as they are so thirsty and demanding. Plus despite doing fab baskets in the past in the last couple of years the plant combos havent worked – I’ve no idea why. However I do like those single plant baskets – they are quite stunning. I am now wondering about a row of small terracota pots filled with lobelia along the top of my wall – hmmm (this would mean more seeds though!)

    • I love the simplicity of filling each basket/container with 7 identical plants, they have such visual impact. We’re hoping to mount our hanging basket holders this year and these would make a lovely filler for the baskets in this way. Though I was determined not to buy any more seeds this year too! Hmm…

  4. What beautiful colours! My Mother has lots of lobelia growing in nooks in the dry stone walls that surround her garden in the Yorkshire Dales; it always makes me think of home when I see some, as you suggested, often in someone’s pot or window box.

  5. Glorious and positively singing shades of mauves, blues and lilac. I have not had any lobelia for years not because I don’t like it but because I stopped doing baskets years ago. I remember lobelia being one of the first plants I ever bought and being impressed by how it flowered its socks off for months. I have about three issues of ‘The Garden’ to catch up on so must make an effort to catch up. Will look out for that article.

    • I’ve never paid much attention to lobelias until now, but suspect this year or next I may be trying some in baskets or pots. Especially as they need minimal deadheading but give such a good performance. Hope you enjoy the article too.

  6. I bought a cheap job lot mid summer to fill a new bed and was really taken with how they performed. (Looks over shoulder, beckons to come closer and whispers) – might do it again this year!

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