Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Regal blues

Delphinium grandiflorum
 Who doesn't sing the blues, when it comes to gardens? There are simply not enough blues: knowing that, why are delphiniums not more often seen? This outrageous clump bloomed magnificently at Dan Johnson's home garden for months it seemed this summer. I had Delphinium grandiflorum self-sowing so exuberantly in the Rock Alpine Garden in the early years I pulled it all out (and have regretted that ever since: it was a midsummer wonder).

Delphinium nuttallii
 Not all larkspurs are summer bloomers--of course: this is a native tuberous rooted species that acts like a bulb--popping up and blooming in the spring and dying down promptly. Here it is in my meadow in early May--I've been delighted that it's begun to self sow (at least the rabbits don't eat THIS!). The blue is just as fetching, although with violet undertones.
Delphinium occidentale
 There are three high altitude larkspurs in our mountains that grow in mesic habitats: I have never tried growing this one, which I suspect might be growable. I photographed this above Crested Butte this July where it grew by the thousand in the lush meadows. The similar, but huskier Delphinium barbeyi from further north hates our summer heat. Strange that I have never seen such a fabulous potential garden plant in a single Colorado garden: what HAVE we been up to? Watching the Broncos instead I suppose?

Delphinium barbeyi dwarf
Here is my nemesis: I have tried this many times--like D. occidentale this grows in subalpine meadows, but really hates the lower elevations. Usually five or six feet tall, John and Peggy White took me to an alpine meadow high above Silverton where there were dozens of these tiny alpine specimens a foot or more tall. Alas, they seemed to be almost as intractable--although they would thrive in Steamboat or Vail where there are exquisite gardens. The brooding deep purple black color is a hallmark of midsummer in our mountains.

Delphinium alpesre
Of course, the real gem of our native delphinium is this tiny alpine that is quite rare. I have only seen it twice (and never re-located the hillside on Hoosier pass where I first saw it forty years ago despite many attempts). Fortunately, I know just where it grows on West Spanish Peak, where Bill Adams and I have climbed many times to visit it. I just realized that after growing it a decade or more I may have lost my last plant in my alpine garden: time for another climb this coming fall!

Delphinium pylzowii
 This has become my loveliest pest: like a more willowy D. grandiflorum, this closely allied taxon is seeding all over the central bed in my rock garden, coming up in the middle of saxifrages and drabas--it pains me to have to root them out, half destroying their predated cushion in the process. They open their first flowers in May most years, blazing all through the summer months. Believe it or not--there are still a few fresh blossoms on these and it's November 20 today: making this my champion delphinium for long season of bloom (that seven months if you haven't counted). Not bad for a blue!
Delphinium pylzowii
I took this picture a month or so ago. Notice the buds coming on--they're the ones that are open now...
Delphinium sp. unknown
I don't have a clue what this magnificent thing is: it was growing in one of the many fabulous private rock gardens in Denver (this garden happens to belong to the owner of a gold mining company who is one of Denver's leading philanthropists: good friends to have!)

Delphinium tricorne
I am so jealous of these in the Rock Alpine Garden: this husky eastern cousin to our nuttallii makes a spectacle for a few weeks in mid spring and dies away. I have to get some (Munchkin Nursery sells it...) I have seen woodlands in the Midwest full of this in spring. And Norman Deno grew it like a weed in his amazing State College garden.

Delphinium geyeri
 A truly horrible picture of one of our best delphiniums. This grows in dense patches along the Grand Hogback just at the west of Denver, making a spectacular display along the foothill highway for miles every June. I drive that way deliberately several times each summer to admire it among the cacti and yuccas--which is where Dan Johnson has naturalized it in our Plains Garden. One of America's greatest xeriscape plants--and you will not find it in a local nursery,,,,of course!

Delphinium virescens
Two or three times I've seen this pale larkspur sold by Jeff Ottersberg's Wild Things Nursery in Pueblo: It's never quite the right time when I see the flats for sale to plant them in my xeriscape, so I have missed out on adding this sprightly (if rather unprepossessing) native perennial to my garden. DRATS!

Delphinium elatum in Kazakhstan steppe
 And the holy grail: we found acres of the famous "Pacific Northwest Hybrid" style classic delphinium growing on the windy, dry steppes of Kazakhstan: I think we pamper these too much. The best delphiniums I've ever seen in America were growing in think clay all over Newcastle, Wyoming--forming huge clumps with literally dozens of stems. It's been bred to death in Europe and the Pacific Northwest to tolerate pedalfer soils, but on its native steppe its growing on pedocals in hot baking sun.
Delphinium elatum
The flowers on many specimens here on the foothills of the Altai mountains were as showy and brilliant as any of the so-called "hybrids" (which are just gussied up really--I prefer nature always). We essentially had a crop failure on this wild form (something my clever boss reminds me of from time to time--nothing slips by him). Fortunately, there is banked seed in Germany...
Delphinium semibarbatum

 And now my Grail: the ultimate delphinium for me is the golden larkspur of Central Asia. I grew a truly deep yellow-gold form for many years (it was in full bloom the day Jim and Jenny Archibald first flew to Colorado: June 17, 1987: a day I shall not forget because my daughter was born that same day. In fact this may have been the only plant in the Rock Alpine Garden that impressed Jim at the time). We got seed from a commercial source and grew it a few years ago--and it produced this pale, diaphanous thing almost identical to what Mike Bone and I saw north of the Tien Shan in Kazakhstan--not the bright yellow gold one I grew once. I love them both. I look forward to the day our xeriscapes are full of both forms of "Zalil"...and the literally dozens of other choice delphiniums that are found throughout all Eurasia and in all the deserts, steppes, montane forests and alpine slopes of America as well (including the red ones too--another blog!): strange indeed that so few of these are grown !


  1. Nice set of larkspurs! I had to go check Alplains seed list to compare- he has a few of your western choices, and more besides. I was looking at some small ones on the Czech lists too.. I still haven't got my local D glaucum going in my garden yet, even though I've collected seed for Kristl once or twice, I'll have to try to find seed again next year..

  2. Would LOVE to try your glaucum if you find it: and I have seed of a number of these I'd be happy to share with either of you--but (alas!) not alpestre this year, Susan!

    1. It looks like I may be getting some ripe seed of the D. alpestre this year after all. Any tips on cultivation since it seems like you've grown this from seed before?


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