In honor of Lady Bird, a flower that is impossible to resist: the lupine. She favored the Texas bluebonnet, Lupinus texensis, which blooms all over my native state thanks to her efforts. But there’s more to lupines that bluebonnets.
The lupines in this photo, which I took at Pike Place Market in Seattle, are probably the ‘Russell’ hybrids or the ‘Band of Noble’ series. They’re bred just for the cut flower industry, and they’re a little fussy, so it can be frustrating to grow them in a garden. (OK, they’re frustrating to grow in my garden. Maybe they grow like weeds in your garden!)
Here in California, the yellow bush lupine L. arboreus is gorgeous, but it gets invasive outside of its range. It’s a beloved native plant a few hours south, but here in Humboldt county, we try to eradicate it from fragile ecosystems.
The lupine to grow here in California is the native Lupinus albifrons, or ‘Silver Bush Lupine.’ It’s a lovely silvery shrub with purple spikes; you can order it through Annie’s Annuals.
Lupines are in the bean and pea family, and like their edible cousins, they fix nitrogen in the soil. Some gardeners plant them with a special inoculant, Rhizobium lupini, that encourages that nitrogen fixing relationship, but if your nursery doesn’t have it, just plant the seeds. Like peas, lupine seeds can be tough; it helps to nick the seed coat with a knife to encourage germination. If you’re buying them as seedlings or potted plants, choose plants that are not rootbound and then try not to disturb the roots when you put them in the ground.
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center offers a plant database with 53 different lupines. Check it out; there’s bound to be one that grows in your backyard.
And go here to listen to my NPR commentary about Lady Bird on All Things Considered.