Emma Townshend: 'I grew my first lupins aged eight - but I've never been able to reproduce those towering pillars of vivaciousness since'

 

Life is definitely sometimes really annoying. My example is not on a massive scale, but here we go. What I'm thinking of is this: when I was about eight, my mum let me have a patch of flower bed of my own for the first time. It was a very chalky garden, full of actual lumps of both chalk and flint – pretty unpromising, but nonetheless I was ecstatic. So I chose some seeds to grow in it.

What I chose were "Russell Strain" lupins. Old-fashioned plants, we think now, but I've seen them in use in recent years at Chelsea and to me they suddenly have the air of something entirely invented to please modern eyes – stacks of bright colour, alternating with the flair of something Italian from the 1950s. Pucci-ish, even.

The Russell who bred the strain was a man of devious and delectable effect: the packets used to bear a picture of the gentleman himself. George Russell was already retired when he began breeding lupins, using two adjoining allotments as a testbed, and in a brilliant act of Third Age Spunkiness, did his first display at the Chelsea Flower Show aged 79.

Perhaps my granddad was handed the chosen packet to germinate, probably growing in the greenhouse a range of little plants which we transplanted into the chalky soil. But my memory, possibly false, is of tiny germinating leaves in the flower bed itself, and then the beautiful star-shaped fingers of the lupin leaf. Lupins have soft blue-green leaves, with long pale central veins. And then in the summertime, these tall pyramid flowers, zigguratty, with neat levels of colour. My memory of that very first flower bed I ever owned, possessed, controlled, is of a crazy mix of hues, all the different possibilities of lupin tumbling over each other. And who knows now whether it's right? We didn't take any photos.

At a scientific level, the stripiness they have is probably some neat demonstration of the switching on and off of active genes, but garden-wise, my heart still sort of jumps with pleasure when I see a really good lupin. And see really good lupins I do. In garden centres, in nurseries, in other people's gardens. When they were for sale, I used to buy them in a mood of hope: I'd bring them home, aiming to match that early beauty, that memory. Or even just to evoke it a tiny bit.

Home. Where they would immediately be eaten by snails.

Now look, there's being eaten by snails, like nibbled; like damaged; like being made to look a little bit uglier. And there's being eaten, like you look out after three days and notice the entire plant is gone. The whole thing. There is a tiny piece of stump, which looks like a cucumber stick that's been gnawed by a weaning-on-demand baby possessed of sharp gnashers, covered with gastropod mucus. It's a disgusting, depressing sight. And it's a repetitive, unavoidable one as far as my garden is concerned. I have never possessed a lupin again in my life, since I was eight years old, for longer than a week, before all that was left of it, gobbled by London snails, is that tell-tale mucoid stump.

In the interim, I've found ways to protect other delicate plants I own from the voracious tastebuds of the mollusc party. I have installed copper strips; occasionally I've even spread slug pellets. My peonies are healthy enough to streak forth from the earth in spring with only a nibble or two on the earliest buds; the first eight leaves of my artichoke plants look like grey-green lace, and after that the artichokes win. But lupins! Never, never again.

There's something so pathetic about trying to repeat a memory. Trying to seek back into the past and retrieve the irretrievable, repeat something that shouldn't, couldn't be repeated. And reading through the gardening literature, I find this line, repeated, about how lupins won't grow in chalk, and begin to doubt the memory even further.

Yet still I hanker after this one plant. And if I could just once get that lupin-filled flower bed, that sense of abundance, that I remember; well, I suppose, then the question would be something slightly weirder: what do you do, once you have everything you want? What then?

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
tech
Sport
Andros Townsend is challenged by Vladimir Volkov
football
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Financial Services Associate - City

Highly Competitive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - FINANCIAL SERVICES - Senior...

Residential Property

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Residential Conveyancer - Wiltshire We have a...

Y5 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Long term position for a KS2...

Graduate BI Consultant (Business Intelligence) - London

£24000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Graduate BI Consultant (B...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week