Perfect Partners: Lobelia tupa & Lilium regale ‘Album’


The beauty of growing plants in pots is that they can be shuffled around endlessly until the most pleasing associations are made. I do this regularly, moving plants to the front, a little to the left or right, hiding them at the back or removing them from the picture altogether. Although occasionally tough on one’s back, creating an ever-changing tapestry of foliage and flowers can be fun and rewarding. It’s also essential if you’re as much of a perfectionist as I am.

With so much going on in other aspects of my life this year, many plants ended up where they first landed in spring and not where they’d usually be. So it was that Lobelia tupa, the magnificent scarlet-flowered species from Chile, ended up next to a pot of Lilium regale ‘Album’. There was nothing remotely calculated about this introduction, but somehow the relationship worked beautifully.

Both plants appreciate sun and shelter, but Lobelia tupa is altogether thirstier and will wilt if not watered every other day. One of the many advantages of growing in pots is that growing medium, watering and feeding can be adjusted to suit each plant perfectly. The lobelia suits a heavier, water-retentive, loam-based compost, whilst the lilies appreciate something lighter, sandier and freer draining. In a conventional border they might struggle to live side by side, but in pots they can be given exactly what they need to thrive.

What I like about this combination is that both flowers are striking, yet completely different in form and colour. One can see through the lobster-claw lobelia flowers to the smooth white trumpets of the lily. Red and white is a dramatic, if not harmonious colour combination, calmed by plenty of green or silver foliage. I enjoy it in tulips such as ‘Red Shine’ and ‘White Triumphator’ or all together in the blooms of ‘Flaming Spring Green’. I’ve introduced a cooling splash of pale lime in the form of Cryptomeria japonica ‘Sekkan-sugi’ AGM, a plant I was inspired to purchase after enjoying Fergus Garrett’s adventures with conifers at Great Dixter. It also seems very happy in a pot, although it will soon outgrow the one it’s in now. The colour of the new needles gives a nod to the centre of each lily. A nice addition to this grouping might be a bi-coloured dahlia such as ‘Red and White Fubuki’, although I’d want to hide the relatively coarse foliage at the back.

Lobelia tupa has no scent – I guess no flower has it all – but the fragrance from the lilies is more than enough to compensate. The only drawback of this arrangement is that I have to brush past the lilies to reach the greenhouse door, getting myself covered in indelible yellow pollen in the process.

Naturally it does help that both plants have flowered at the same time. They might not necessarily do so in other parts of the country, in different conditions or even next year, which is why advice of this kind is always comes with caveats. It pays to experiment and keep an open mind when planning a garden. It’s also wise to just wait and see. The most surprising things happen when you simply let plants be. If they don’t oblige then just move them and they will quickly make new friends. TFG.