Saturday, 13 July 2019

Delphiniums: Seeds, seeds, more seeds and plants

Blue Bird pacific Giant Delphinium with interesting tufty black and white eye
Delphinium Blue Bird (Pacific Giants) sown Feb 2019
I saw my first show-class delphiniums at the RHS Chatsworth show in 2018. Impressive towers of intense colour.  Beautiful but expensive, I thought, "I remember growing delphiniums from seed." Things quickly got out of hand.

Delphinium Black Knight Pacific Giants from Seed
Delphinium Black Knight from Seed (2012)
Years ago I grew a beautiful delphinium from a packet of Tall Black Knight Seeds. It was lovely for several years, then one year the flower spikes were munched by some kind of caterpillar and all snapped off. The next winter I forgot about until a terrible crunching sound underfoot whilst weeding. That, and the increasing shade from a maturing sunburst cherry, probably led to it's demise. It never came back.

Time for it's triumphant return! Tall Black Knight seeds went in the online basket, then some other lovely looking Pacific Giants: Cameliard, Blue Jay, Blue Bird, King Arthur, and Summer Skies.

Imagining a swathe of delphiniums gently swaying in the breeze, I germinated the seeds by chitting them in the fridge sealed in bags with some just-damp paper towels. Meanwhile: to the Internet! to read about my lovely seeds while waiting for them to germinate.

That search uncovered something unsettling; Pacific Giants are supposedly not what they once were. The strains, so they say, have become "a shadow of what they once were". My poor seedlings, dissed before they've even germinated.

I joined the Delphinium Society (DS) to get my hands on their precious Elatum Hybrid hand-pollinated seeds. While waiting for them to arrive, I read some more about Delphinium Society seeds and discovered Dowdeswell Delphiniums of New Zealand. Starting from Delphinium Society seeds, Dowdeswell set out to create better seed-raised strains of delphiniums. Turns out the seed can be ordered direct from New Zealand!  Hello there, cobalt dreams, sunny skies, black eyed angels, purple passion, pagan purples and blue lace.


Of course, I now had an appetite to see some of the famous AGM delphiniums listed by the Delphinium Society. There are a couple of sites listed in Yorkshire as good places to see them. The DS had even donated delphiniums to the refurbished delphinium beds in the walled garden at Castle Howard. Seems that 2018 was a really bad year for Delphiniums leading to the demise of many. By July 2019 there were only 3 on display at Castle Howard. At a nursery 40 minutes up the A1: perhaps half a dozen. Temple Newsam still holds a National Collection, but they moved their delphiniums from the dedicated bed (google for pictures of it, it was beautiful), into the mixed herbaceous borders in the walled garden, and they were rather struggling, and less impressive dotted about. There were perhaps 12-15 to be seen in June.


If I wanted to see the elite delphiniums growing at their best, without the train fair to London or Wisley, I'd have to get hold of them myself. A fine excuse. So, now there's another 9 young delphiniums; Pandora, Blue Lagoon, Jill Curley, Pericles, Amadeus, Nobility (powdery mildew already!), Strawberry Fair, Purple Velvet and Faust (this latter bought in bloom from the garden centre). 


Now I've got dozens of seedlings, young plants, and flowering-size plants (from the early Pacific Giants sowing). At least I'll be able to compare them. Do the Pacific Giants deserve to be shunned? Will I fall in love with Dowdeswell's Delphs? Will I be awed by the English style hybrid elatums? I should keep some records. And breed my own of course. 

Black Knight (pacific giants) sown Jan/Feb 2019

July 2019

The first one has oddly, but not unappealing hairy flower buds. They are less well filled than my first Black Knight, but they are still currently in 2 or 3L pots and it's their first year. So, maybe they will fill out. Flowers are a single or semi-double.  The colour is an intense dark blue in shade and a dark purple in full sunshine.

Delphinium Black Knight Pacific Giant from seedDelphinium Black Knight Pacific Giant from seed - hairy budsDelphinium Black Knight Pacific Giant from seed


Blue Jay (pacific giants) Sown Jan/Feb 2019

July 2019


Two different plants of Blue Jay, pictures 1 and 2 are the same plant in different lighting, the first picture best represents the colour in sunlight. The first plant seems to have well filled spikes, the other has much wider spacing between the flowers. I don't know whether this will persist in next year when the plant is more mature. It's an intense mid-blue double flowers with hints of lavender purple.

Blue Jay,  Pacific Giant Delphinium from seedBlue Jay,  Pacific Giant Delphinium from seedBlue Jay,  Pacific Giant Delphinium from seed


Summer Skies (pacific giants) Sown Jan/Feb 2019

July 2019

This one is growing in a much bigger pot that it's sharing with some roselilies in ericaceous compost. It seems to really like it. The flowers really are the colour of a summer sky - look at the first picture! Sky blue with small green dots on the  petal edges. One of the three in the same pot has powdery mildew on the leaves.


Summer Skies,  Pacific Giant Delphinium from seed July 2019Summer Skies,  Pacific Giant Delphinium from seed July 2019


Faust Bought July 2019 Garden Centre

July  2019

This was bought already in flower. The flowers are double and an intense blue with hints of purple in direct sunshine.  Very sturdy looking - which will in part I think be due to the nursery production, so won't be a fair comparison until next year.
FaustFaust,  Elatum Hybrid Delphinium bought as rooted cuttingFaust,  Elatum Hybrid Delphinium bought as rooted cutting

Blue Bird (pacific giants) sown Jan/Feb 2019

July 2019

Still in 2 or 3L. Just one flowered so far, closely spaced single flowers of intense blue with an attractive and interesting white-tufted bee. Tall slender spike. Very nice indeed. 

Delphinium Blue Bird - tufty
Delphinium Blue Bird - tufty