They seem like they’d be a cottage garden staple, right?
I can see why people think that. Delphiniums add an instant touch of enchantment and romance to any garden and are a great way to shake up an otherwise monotonous landscaping design.
However, there are few plants that cause me so much misery (and from listening to your feedback and desperate pleas for help, I get the feeling that I'm not the only one).
Delphiniums, these towering human-sized perennials, are apparently not as easy to grow as people might think and they present a real challenge to gardeners.
That being said, there do seem to be some gardeners who have absolutely no problem cultivating these toxic beauties from the buttercup family.
From my own experience – and trust me, I've planted them countless times – it's pretty easy to sum up the issue with delphiniums: you plant them one year and they're gone the next.
Why is it that one man's pain is another man's pleasure? Snails? The variety? The location?
It's time to take a closer look at my relationship with this perennial to try and establish why it never works for me.
Possibility No 1:
Slugs and snails. Few plants are more appealing to our small, slimy friends. That's why I declared my delphiniums as my 'sacrificial lamb'. Last year, all the delphiniums I placed (I didn't bother planting them, instead I kept them in pots and positioned them in the flower beds) were ravaged but that meant all other usually appetizing flowers managed to escape unscathed.
Possibility No 2:
The lifespan of a delphinium depends on which variety you choose.
Let's distinguish between the different types:
There are annual varieties (larkspur) but you don't see these in gardens very often.
Pacific delphiniums don't live all that long, they have a lifespan of two to three years. And they're often the kind you find in garden centers or hardware stores, so pretty common.
But things are different if you go for Belladonna delphiniums or Elatum delphinium, they live significantly longer.
Belladonna delphiniums have a lifespan of five years and for Elatums, it's at least five to ten years. Which just prompted me to get so overexcited that I randomly ordered three Elatums... In July. So, yeah, there's that.
Possibility No 3:
Location is important. Extremely important. If they're not happy, your delphiniums won't hang around for long.
They're requirements (or demands, really) are:
Your little friends like full sun and clay-ey soils that drain freely and are rich in humus and nutrients. They don't like to compete with other plants. Anything else?
Why, yes! Make sure you don't plant them anywhere that was recently home to other delphiniums. Two words: soil exhaustion.
Oh, and one more thing: it's a good idea to move your plants to a new location every other year (and potentially divide them in the process). Do this in early spring. Sounds easy enough.
Be aware that delphiniums aren't really 'filler' plants. They like space.
It's best to feed them some cow manure pellets when you plant them and then give them some lime in the fall. You'll need to do that every year.
Oh, and water them during droughts! They don't really like heavy rain because it can snap their stems.
You'll also need to stake them because they're so big.
(You know what? On second thoughts, I might cancel that plant order).
Fine. I of course didn't cancel my Elatum order. I'm just going to empty an entire packet of slug pellets around these three plants. Kidding. You know me better than that, I'd never, ever do that.
I'd really love for it to work out between me and delphiniums. Any relationship advice would be hugely welcome!
Love from a delphinium-trepidatious Sarah