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Delphinium Time

The last few weeks have seen that explosion of growth that we yearn for all winter, all year really. Night temperatures started to climb after a couple of late frosts and growth really began to surge. The tulips strutted their stuff right into May but I was almost glad to see them go. You only get one flower from a bulb and they flower when they feel like it. They're expensive and they have to be sold at exactly the right moment. So heavy rain, strong wind, frosts and heat waves are not welcome. Which sounds a lot like our May. But they were so worth it. Soon be time to order next year's bulbs…

The Anemones did well too, wave upon wave of long stemmed flowers in white, pastel pinks and mauves, or bright red, pink, blue and purple. Imagine what 4000 Anemones look like when they're in full flower and then, how much picking they take! Our ravishing Ranunculus had a final flourish, they're such stars, providing wonderful focal flowers for bouquets. We already grew a large range of pastel pinks, corals and picotees, so we bought several hundred new pastel colours to augment these. I was briefly a bit disappointed to see them flower in bright yellows, orange, reds, crimsons and purples but then we got asked to supply a Persian themed wedding and all was well. Just wish they were as easy to grow as their cousin, the common buttercup. They're both members of the Ranunculaceae family and you can just about see the resemblance in their leaves and the flower structure. Anemones are also members of this flower family, as are the next flowers to star on the farm, the Delphiniums and Larkspurs.

Delphiniums and Larkspur are such iconic elements of the idyll of the English country garden. They're very closely related and make the most wonderful cut flowers, so we grow a lot. We find that Larkspur germinates easily and after last year's amazing summer, it's now self sown all over the garden. It'll be interesting to see what colours we get this year. Last year we grew a huge range of different hybrids, from a delicious misty grey lavender, through pinks and whites, frosted blues and deep purples. We even grew the true wild larkspur, a light airy cloud of flowers in rich blue or white, a tangly beauty!

Being a big fan of blue flowers, Delphiniums have my heart. Their range of blues is like no other. From the palest misty blue, though clear caerulean sky, to the richest indigos. Their eyes, also known as bees, come in all colours, white brown and black. Real bees adore them, spiralling their way around their stems. Sometimes double, sometimes single, their stature is astounding. They grow so quickly, throwing up 6 ft spires with the most unlikely speed, a thrilling presence in the garden, I'm entranced.

Both Larkspur and Delphiniums can be difficult to germinate though but there are tricks. We sow Delphinium seeds in damp tissue paper in closed plastic boxes in winter. For some reason they germinate very well like this. Then you have to transfer the tiny seedlings into compost. It's a bit fiddly but we now have hundreds of my favourite pale blue variety Clivedon Beauty growing away well in the field. If you can get fresh seeds from your plants, they germinate like mustard and cress. Keep on top of slugs with the new and safe Ferric Phosphate slug pellets and keep an eye out around your plants after flowering. We found hundreds of seedlings growing in our thick mulch last year.

Mind you we've found thousands of seedlings this year, every single bed has seen the plants generously offering to take over. Some things are very welcome, stunning Iceland Poppies, beautiful Scabious and Foxgloves are welcome anywhere. Giant Scabious and monster Cardoon somewhat less so. I like to imagine what the garden would look like if we left it untended, it would quickly turn into a most extraordinary jungle! And if I don't finish this article and get out there with my secateurs and trowel, it will.

All images and text ©Paul Stickland. First published in The Sherborne Times, June 2019


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