New plants

Lobelia x speciosa ‘Starship Blue’

Lobelia x speciosa Starship series was first introduced a few years ago and I grew ‘Starship Deep Rose’ which was one of the first colours available. They were flamboyant and exotic looking plants and I was impressed with the amount of flower they had and how long flowering lasted. Starship Blue is a new colour in the range and I was already planning a blue, or possibly a daring blue and orange colour theme for some of my summer pots at the start of the year, so it’s introduction was very well timed!

Lobelia speciosa, from which the Starship series is bred, is much hardier than the small-flowered, trailing Lobelia erinus that you might be familiar with as a plant for hanging baskets and pots. So even though the Starship series (which is crossed with another species, though I’m not sure which one!) isn’t quite as hardy as the species, they can survive temperatures down to -5 degrees C once they’re established. However, as the plug plants I bought had probably been grown under cover and wouldn’t have been acclimatized to outside temperatures, and because I was growing them in containers with plants which weren’t hardy, I kept them in my unheated greenhouse until after the last frost. They started flowering in June. The flower stems, or racemes, were sturdy, about 70-80cm tall at full height and very straight. They were also really densely covered with blooms as you can see here, and they gradually get longer as more of the buds at the top started to open into these elegant, flowers with their fan of three petals at the bottom and two little ‘ears’ at the top.

Once they’d got settled in, they produced lots of flower spikes. One plant in particular became very bushy, and they all flowered well into September. Most lobelias like to be grown in reliably damp soil, and these are no exception. As long as you keep the soil or compost consistently watered so it doesn’t dry out they’ll flower well in full sun, although they’re also happy in light shade. The pot on the left, above, was by my front door, which gets sun in the morning but is shaded by the house in the afternoon and the one on the right was in full sun in my back garden with a triphylla fuchsia ‘Thalia’.

When I grew ‘Starship Deep Rose’ it lasted for three winters before it disappeared. This might have been due to some particularly cold winter weather but I suspect they’re just not very long lived, so although they’re described as a hardy perennial they may never last more than two or three years. They weren’t particularly expensive so you might even be happy to grow them as an annual and just see it as a bonus if they do come through the winter.

I bought my plants from Brookside Nursery and paid £7.99 for 3 jumbo plug plants, which, as I mentioned, I planted straight into containers and grew on in my unheated greenhouse until after the last frosts. If I’d wanted to put them into the ground I would have grown them on in 9cm pots first. The plug plants were a good size and it might be ok to put them straight into the ground but I prefer to grow things on to at least 9cm so they have a better chance of competing with larger plants in my very crowded borders. Also, like the majority of pot-grown plants they’ll do better with regular feeding so I added controlled release fertiliser to the compost when I was planting up because I find it easier to do that than to try to remember to liquid feed regularly.

On a side note, I’ve always found Brookside Nursery to be very reliable in terms of the quality of the plants and packaging, plus you can choose the week you want plants delivered which is very handy.

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