Tutti-Frutti are carefree, colorful plants

January 8, 2014
Like all lupines, Tutti-Frutti makes excellent cut flowers.

Nonsense words abound in English. Silly rules are made up “willy nilly,” toys are strewn “helter skelter” and some boors don’t talk, but just “jibber jabber.” And then there’s tutti frutti. But Tutti-Frutti actually means something, just not what you might think it means. And that, in a way, is exactly what it means.

Tutti-Frutti was once considered borderline pornographic, though there really is a very non-pornographic something called Tutti-Frutti. Since 1834 it has been recorded as a phrase borrowed straight from the Italian words tutti-frutti, meaning all fruit. So a gelato might be flavored tutti frutti.

But Tutti-Frutti is also the 1955 song co-written by Little Richard that was his first major hit record. The lyrics were altered to clean them up, but just the termTutti Frutti seems to have slightly risqué overtones. This sense of spicy naughtiness is apparently carried over to the plant kingdom where another Tutti-Frutti, the Tutti-Frutti lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus) is attracting a bit of attention.

These lupines are a real improvement over the famous Russell Hybrids. Tutti-Frutti has livelier bicolors tightly spaced on full flower spikes. But the best part of growing Tutti-Frutti, besides its ridiculous name, is that unlike other lupines, it blooms the first year from seed. Usually you have to wait an entire year before lupines will bloom from seed. If you plant Tutti-Frutti once the soil warms up, you will get blooms this summer and right through July, or later.

Like all lupines, Tutti-Frutti makes excellent cut flowers. And they often self seed, meaning they will bloom and produce flowers and seeds that drop to the ground and sprout and bloom the next season.

Tutti-Frutti grows as a perennial in USDA zones 4-8 but can self seed even farther north. Tutti-Frutti grows 36 to 40 inches tall spreading 12 to 16 inches wide. They do best in full sun and are not at all fussy about soil as long as it is well drained. In fact, they can grow in very poor sandy soil. A soil pH between 5 and 6 is best.

Choose a sunny site and always soak any lupine seeds for 24 hours before planting. Sow the seeds a half inch deep about two feet apart. The plants naturally spread out and send out multiple flower spikes from each plant. Plant Tutti-Frutti in cottage gardens or even in a separate cutting garden. Because of their tall spikes, they do well with low-growing annuals such a as petunias and sweet alyssum.

Lupines attract honeybees and beneficial insects to the garden. You can even put lupines in the vegetable garden where they are said to make good companions to lettuce, cucumbers, melons and squash, but not so good for tomatoes.

Lupines improve the soil because they are legumes and add or fix nitrogen into the soil. Nitrogen is one of the major components of fertilizer and is used by following crops or flower plants.

Whether you choose traditional Russell Lupines or try Tutti-Frutti that blooms the first year from seed, these easygoing, carefree plants will come back for years of pleasure. Just like rock ‘n’ roll.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.