Thursday, July 9, 2020

Delphinium californicum: a case study

Geoffrey Charlesworth once wrote that it doesn't matter if you've actually GROWN a plant, it only matters if you've photographed it to prove that you've grown it! That is not an exact quote--but a pretty good paraphrase I reckon. I wish I knew* if either he or Norman Singer (two of the most wonderful plantsmen I've ever known) had grown this. I can only imagine their delight. It bloomed for several weeks--a real champion! And during that time I must have taken several dozen horrible pictures until there was a peculiar conjunction of the stars, and I seem to have finally captured it.


We plant nerds go through a sort of serial love affair with certain genera or plants. Delphiniums have always delighted me--and I have grown Delphinium nudicaule, which is also red (but from Northern California). I remember seeing plants of this at a local greenhouse years ago, and for some reason I didn't buy them. But the day that California instituted "Stay at Home" and closed businesses in early March I went to Annie's Annuals in Richmond, which had somehow gotten a variance and was open. This was one of dozens of trophies I bought and brought back.

America--and especially California have a superabundance of wonderful red plants: think Zauschneria, Lobelia cardinalis, Monardella macrantha, penstemons galore. There's quite a long list of them. Come to think of it, I grow these and many more: I seem to be as fond of them as the hummingbirds. And the first time I grew any of them, I know I experienced the sort of fascinated delight that this gave me this year. I would go out again and yet again and take more horrible pictures.

Looking at its range, the chances of its coming back next year may be slim...but there does seem to be some life at the bottom of the stem still...

 It's something of a miracle that it survived at all this spring--we had repeated cold snaps after I brought it back, and it commuted (in  its pot) back and forth into our cool corner room before I planted it out. Apparently in a good spot!

Needless to say, I'll be cherishing the few seedpods it is setting, and seek out more seed of it to grow next winter. One isn't enough. We plant nerds want multi-multiples of every plant we love to surround us for as long as we live and garden!

But even if I fail, I have these pictures to prove I did it once at least.

*I not only wish I knew if Geoffrey or Norman grew this, I wish I knew which of Alan Turing's colleagues depicted in "the Imitation Game"  portrayed Geoffrey. And what he would have thought of the movie. I can hear him say in my mind "it wasn't really like that at ALL"....


  1. I didn't know there was a red delphinium. I have only seen white or blues/purples. I am amazed that this is a native. What a beauty. Good for you that you can grow it.

  2. Seeds learn. Maybe some hardiness genes were flipped on by the repeated cold snaps -- I hope you collect a lot of seeds and hope this beauty makes it through our winters!

  3. I have tried to grow this and other delphiniums without success so far. Thanks for posting your photos and comments.


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