A legacy of lupins

Janice Wells jwellsoeo@hotmail.com
Published on April 12, 2014

I’ll bet you didn’t know that we all owe a great big debt of thanks to Ernest and Elizabeth Winter (formerly or still, I’m not sure which) of Random Island, and their four sons. I could be wrong, but I am crediting them for a lot, if not all, of the pleasure I get when the lupins are in bloom along what is often a somewhat boring TCH.

I actually have wondered where the first ones came from and figured the credit probably went to the birds. That was before I received the following email from Elizabeth a few weeks back.

“Good morning, lovely way to start my day reading your column. My grandmother’s garden in Brigus was full of delphiniums, monkshood and iris, and my bridal bouquet 66 years ago was delphiniums. Monkshood enjoy our climate and thrive on neglect. Some years ago we bought a saltbox house on Random Island. The initial attraction was a hedge of monkshood in full bloom around the empty house with purple and yellow iris blooming in a little brook on the boundary, and lupins in the ditches all the way down the road.

“When the TCH was being built in the early ’60s my husband and I with our four boys, in our sturdy Land Rover, threw lupin seeds everywhere we needed a ‘pit stop’ on our way to Terra Nova.

“We loved our gardens but with our busy life the best flowers were the ones that required little attention and the most joy.”

 What lovely images Elizabeth brings to mind: her grandmother’s garden and the Random Island house, and the idea of a bridal bouquet of delphiniums just takes my breath away. I can’t think of anything more beautiful coming from the most exclusive florist on Earth.

 Well, let’s face it, the best florist on Earth is not at all exclusive, bestowing, as She does, the beauty of flowers all over the world. The harshest northern places and the hottest deserts can lay claim to flowers of some size and description. Some of them are almost too small to see and some only appear once every so many years, but they are there.

And can’t you just picture a couple with four little boys scattering seeds on the sides of what was then practically a dust bowl? Our very own Newfoundland Johnny Appleseed. It’s certainly possible and even likely that a handful of seeds scattered decades ago would have spread by now to the swathes of lupins that delight me along the highway every June. And for the life of me, I can’t remember seeing such many displays on the other side of Terra Nova on my many drives to the west coast.

(Of course, just because I don’t remember them doesn’t mean they weren’t there.)

In my experience, established lupins don’t transplant all that well. I used to try to move plants from the wild and also from other parts of the garden, but I haven’t done it for years. I do want lupins in my New Harbour garden so maybe I’ll start the first year just by scattering a few packs of seeds.

 I’ve seen Russell Hybrid lupins in an astonishing and unusual array of colours, like peaches and reds, but the hybrids don’t self-seed as readily as the wild ones and when they do the seedlings could be any colour.

What I have just found out via the Google garden is that you can reproduce lupins from cuttings, which I must admit I’d never thought of. In the spring you take four- to six-inch cuttings from side shoots near the soil, making sure you take some root tissue, remove the lowest two sets of leaves and proceed as you would for any cuttings; rooting hormone, plastic of some sort for a greenhouse effect, and hope for the best.

You could also gather seeds from along the highway. They may be the descendants of the Random Island seeds.

Janice Wells lives in St. John’s. Her latest book, “Newfoundland and Labrador Book of Musts,” was published in October 2010 by MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc. You can reach her at janicew@nf.sympatico.ca.

Note to readers: please do not send thumbnail-size photographs, as they are too small to publish.