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.

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23 thoughts on “Perfect Partners: Lobelia tupa & Lilium regale ‘Album’

    1. Thank you Helen. With such a tiny garden I have to get my kicks from these little ‘incidents’ rather than major planting statements. But then I guess that’s the same for many gardeners and no less joyous. Dan

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  1. A stunning combination – we expect no less!!! And you’ve solved the name of a plant in my garden. Bought it a few years back, but forgot the name. Knew it sounded like tupolo. Now this morning I see its correct name, L. Tuba – thank you. Now if I could sort out the name for another plant (a self-seeded) annual in my garden I’d be soooooooo happy. Thanks for a lovely post.

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  2. So where did you buy the lobelia tupa? Looks a great plant. I am not good with lilies, in fact gave all my Lilium regale away at the end of the season last year but think I may have to re-invest. I am growing more and more in pots – no space left in the garden itself. I agree with you that leaving the garden to do it’s “own thing” produces all sorts of wonderful combinations you had never thought of. I have a veritable jungle this year and tell everyone I am “re-greening” the village. Off to move a few pots around – didn’t like the look as I shot out earlier today. Mrs. P.

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    1. I’m glad it isn’t just me that races home to adjust my pots!

      I did a big shop at Trevenna Cross in Cornwall when I was down last September. They were selling off all manner of goodies at half price – polytunnels full of them – so I picked this up for a song. I cut it back straight away and left it outside in a plastic pot all winter. It returned this spring full of vigour and flowering nice and early. In fact everything I purchased on that trip has done well. Cornwall has the best nurseries!

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  3. Those lobster claws and trumpets make a striking display. Don’t you just love it when it just happens. I am so glad to read that you move those plants around often tweaking a look here and there. I have more pots on the patio than usual this year and I seems I am always out there shoving a pot over a couple of inches, turning one just this way and that. Fun but I was beginnning to think I was a fickle. Now I am thinking maybe not.

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    1. Absolutely not. You are an artist perfecting your picture. It’s a good idea to turn pots occasionally, since in any grouping there will tend to be a front and a back. If you are planning to keep any plant in a pot long-term it’s better if it does not become one-sided. I should take my own advice on that!

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  4. Oh those lilies are fabulous!!! Every year I plant more lily bulbs in my perennial bed, and every year I wonder what happened to them….but I think something is eating them from underneath grrrrrrrr!!! I may try them in containers next spring, and just bring them in for the winter.

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  5. Absolutely love the Lobelia, I wonder Wether I can find it here in Germany.
    Being in Frankonia, a wine growing region, I guess it should be mild enough.

    Compliments to your arrangements, they are daring and are shouting out how much you love each leave and texture….Bravo!

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  6. Dan, I love it! So jungly. And I can smell the lilies all the way to Chicago. When I do my flower arrangements, I pluck the stamen off the lilies. I wonder if you can do that when they are growing? xoxoxox

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  7. I love L.tupa – so exotic-looking and striking. I grew it in my previous garden and decided when I moved 18 months ago that I would try it in my new garden, even though we are in a cold, windy spot with the worst sort of unimproved solid clay soil. To my surprise it thrived and flowered very well last summer when lots of other supposedly tough plants didn’t survive. I put the L.tupa quite close to a wall which gave it a bit of wind protection but not much. I mulched the plants thickly over the winter. This year the new growth got very badly frosted when we had 3 nights in March with temperatures several degrees below zero. The plants looked terrible. I thought I would lose them but amazingly they bounced back vigorously and now they are big healthy plants with loads of flowers spikes close to opening. The frost damage seems to have had the effect of giving the plants an early version of the Chelsea chop!

    If any gardener likes this plant but thinks that they cannot provide mild enough conditions I would suggest that it is worth giving it a try, unless you are very risk-averse.

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  8. Cryptomerias have really fallen out of favor for us. They never were overly popular, but have become downright scarce. It is unfortunate, because, although not so great in the Santa Clara Valley, they work nicely in coastal climates.

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  9. All these beautiful pictures. It’s like recreation to look at them. So wonderful!

    All in all: Superbe garden, great gardener, lovely flowers. Thanks a lot for sharing 🙂

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