from the employee owners at Gardener's Supply Co.

Delphinium Envy

'New Millennium' Delphiniums are available from a handful of U.S. nurseries this spring. The photo above comes from Graceful Gardens, which is offering several different cultivars.

‘New Millennium’ Delphiniums are available from a handful of U.S. nurseries this spring. The photo above comes from Graceful Gardens, which is offering several different cultivars.

I wish marigolds did it for me. Why is it that we always crave the flowers that are most difficult for us to grow?

In my garden the soil is heavy and shallow. Winters are cold (zone 4) and snow cover is pretty undependable. Summers can be warm and humid. The prevailing southerly winds are strong, and they funnel right up the valley into my perennial border. It’s not a very good situation for delphiniums.

Of course this has not deterred me. I’ve been trying to grow delphiniums in my long perennial border for more than 20 years now. Sometimes a couple of plants manage to reappear for a second year, but they rarely do more than survive. So each spring I plant a few new delphinium plants in the back of the border, ever optimistic that they’ll be something like the delphiniums I’ve seen in England and Scotland. Sometimes the odd plant takes hold and puts on a wonderful show. But it’s nothing you can count on.

For Christmas this year, my friend Sue gave me a package of delphinium seeds that she ordered from New Zealand. I won’t reveal the price, except to say that it was rather dear with the shipping and all. Her gift came with a condition that I grow out the seeds in my greenhouse and give her half the plants. (Only family and very good friends get by giving gifts like that!)

The photo above shows a nursery bed at Dowdeswell Delphiniums in New Zealand.

The photo above shows a nursery bed at Dowdeswell Delphiniums in New Zealand.

Sue had read about a new strain of delphiniums bred in New Zealand by Terry and Janice Dowdeswell. Called ‘New Millennium’ Delphiniums, they are reputed to be more sturdier of stem, more vigorous in habit, longer-lived and more floriferous. All good things.

This spring I’ve noticed that a couple nursery catalogs are starting to offer New Millenniums. Our sister company, Dutch Gardens, is offering the cultivar ‘Purple Passion’. Graceful Gardens
in Mecklenburg, N.Y., has four varieties (and lots of other tempting delphiniums!).

If you’d like to have plenty of delphinium plants for your own garden (and extras for friends), you might want to try your hand at growing them from seed. You can purchase seed directly from the breeder, like we did. At the very least, take a tour of the Dowdeswell’s web site: Dowdewell Delphiniums, Ltd. If you have a minute, you can also read Terry Dowdeswell’s blog: Delphinium Down-Under

The seeds are in my refrigerator now. Since I’ll be away in early April, I’m not going to plant them until I return. I’ll be report back later in the season as to how they’re doing.

-Kathy LaLiberte, Director of Gardening

8 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    February 25, 2008    

    Hooray to Kathy for promoting these Delphiniums! But there goes our little sideline growing and selling them, now everyone will be growing them.

    One of the loveliest sights I saw a few years ago was Kathy’s long border bursting with Delphiniums. Magical!

  2. Anonymous
    February 26, 2008    

    IWBMAAi love these flowers, and i have the SAME PROBLEM AS KATHY , BUT I;M NOT A GOOD SEED DOER… ALSO WOULD LIKE TO KNOW , IF AFTER THEY BLOOM ARE YOU TO CUT THAT STALK DOWN SO THEY WILL BLOOM AGAIN IN THE SAME SEASON OR LEAVE THEM ALONE? kATHY FROM COLORADO

  3. Anonymous
    February 26, 2008    

    I live in MN zone 4 and have heard others say they have no luck with Delphiniums. However, they absolutely thrive on the south side of my house with my roses. I have some that were grown from seed that have come back for 6 years. I think the secret in cold climates is to find a microclimate and give them good rich soil.

  4. February 26, 2008    

    Hi there. Though I haven’t had experience growing the Millennium delphiniums, I expect they are like others in that you should cut the stalk after the flowers have faded. If the plant is healthy and vigorous, it will usually send up smaller side stalks. These won’t have quite the size and presence of the initial stalk, but I find they’re actually a better size for flower arrangements. Probably a good idea to side-dress the plants mid-season with fertilizer and/or compost if you want to get a good second flush of blooms.

  5. February 26, 2008    

    If I’m having trouble growing a particular plant, I often think about where I’ve seen that plant thrive. In the case of delphiniums, that’s been in England and Scotland, where they usually receive plenty of moisture all season long. The weather is cool and the plants are usually growing in deep, sheltered beds where the soil is rich and moisture-retentive. British gardeners are also very diligent about staking their delphiniums so the stalks don’t topple over. Time well spent!

  6. Anonymous
    February 27, 2008    

    In the deep south, it’s too hot and humid for delphiniums…but I keep trying….once in awhile I’ll get a few blooms…nothing you can count on….so for the past few springs I plant 3-6 new delphiniums and tons of what southerners call “the poor man’s delphinium”…..LARKSPUR. With lots of Larkspur and Poppies it all makes a spectacular show.
    A Dixie Gardener

  7. Anonymous
    January 23, 2009    

    I am also from MN. My delphiniums usually live for 3-4 years and are very lovely with good side branch flowering.

    I am interested in the New Zealand delphiniums and ordering seeds. Wondering about your experience with them this past year.

  8. July 6, 2009    

    Update coming in early July!

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