Delphinium – the king of the midsummer

Delphiniums are among the most spectacular tall perennials. They are low-maintenance plants, and their flowers are well worth your efforts. Their Latin name Delphinium derives from the shape of their flowers, resembling those of grey dolphins, which live near the coast of Greece.

Their flowers come in a range of colours, but mostly in shades of blue, mauve, pink and white. Colour of the ‘bee’ (central eye) is often different from that of petals. White large ‘bee’ looks great on a dark blue or purple flower, while black ‘bee’ looks exquisite on white, mauve or pink flowers.

The majority of delphiniums do not have the primary root – their roots are fibrous, which branch in all directions. They grow throughout the season, and flower abundantly in early summer and autumn. It is not unusual for the clumps of old plants to die in the middle, while the side shoots continue growing as separate plants. The roots of delphiniums tend to ‘move’ – they either furrow into the ground to the depth of 5-7 cm, or spread just under the surface of the ground. The stems break new roots, when buried deeper into the soil, which strengthen the plant, and a flush of fresh growth follows.

The garden delphiniums (cultivated forms of various species delphiniums, hybrids, etc.) are well adapted to growing in temperate climate zone. They thrive in cool (up to 25oC) and moist summers. One could say that this spectacular perennial has been designed with the Lithuanian climate in mind. Although delphiniums dislike perpetual winter thaws, yet they have the constitution to withstand them. They are very cold-hardy, surviving temperatures down to -50oC, if protected by snow cover. They can be grown on the same spot without being divided for 7 or 8 years.

Depending on weather, delphiniums start flowering in mid or late June in our gardens, and carry on flowering well into July (sometime until mid-July). Very late-flowering cultivars start flowering in late July, with a single plant carrying on for 20-30days.

Delphiniums look well in various mixed borders, since they are charming enough to grace any planting. They associate well with lilies, dahlias and white, yellow or pink roses. They do not look out of place next to low-growing maples, barberries and mock oranges. Sky-blue delphiniums look well with dark conifers as a background, while white ones look pretty in front of deciduous trees. Blue delphiniums marry well with white or pink aquilegias, geraniums, chrysanthemums and Shasta daisies.

Delphiniums in various shades and colours, introduced from New Zealand, have recently become very popular all around the world, however, only a few growers grow them here. Delphiniums hybridize readily and self-seed, therefore valuable named cultivars are normally propagated by division or softwood cuttings. Plants from seed usually do not come true.

© Giedra Bartas, 2011

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