This undated photo taken in New Paltz, N.Y., shows blue delphinium spires, in background, nestled in amongst blue bachelor buttons, and even a blue-handled faucet in the foreground. (Lee Reich via AP)

This undated photo taken in New Paltz, N.Y., shows blue delphinium spires, in background, nestled in amongst blue bachelor buttons, and even a blue-handled faucet in the foreground. (Lee Reich via AP)

Delphiniums are a worthwhile challenge

My delphiniums are now in all their stately glory, the 5-foot, blue spires reaching for the sky as they guard the gate to my vegetable garden.

I have to admit that besides their beauty, I also enjoy growing delphiniums to show off. On the one hand, they are not hard to start from seed, and seedlings bloom quickly, often in their first season if started early enough. On the other hand, growing delphiniums to perfection is one barometer of a gardener’s skill.

Years ago, when I first grew delphiniums from seed, I went through all the machinations suggested in gardening books for ensuring good germination. Fresh seed was said to be a must.

The seed was also said to have a cold requirement before it would sprout, and the suggestion usually offered was to make ice cubes with the seeds in them, then leave the cubes in the freezer for a few weeks. This directive always struck me as odd because it is refrigerator temperatures, not freezer temperatures, that generally snap seeds out of dormancy. Still, I followed the directions and wound up with a bevy of delphinium seedlings that grew into a forest of blue spires.

Delphiniums thrive only in soil that is very fertile, very moist and very well-drained. You can’t just sprinkle some 10-10-10 on the ground and expect bragging rights for your delphiniums. The best way to get that very rich, moist and well-drained soil is to use compost, and plenty of it. My best delphiniums grew where one of my compost bins had been for the previous seven years.

Compost does only so much as far as retaining moisture, though. In a dry summer, delphiniums in any soil need regular watering. Unlike perennials such as coneflower, liatrus and coreopsis, which thrive in lean, dry soils, delphiniums need coddling. My delphiniums drink water from the drip irrigation line in the vegetable garden on the other side of the fence.

Even with coddling, delphiniums are usually short-lived for perennials. No matter how well you treat them, they lose steam after a few years. How long depends on how well you treat them, which you can control, and on the weather, which you can’t control.

Hot summer nights favor their demise, and wet winters sometimes cause them to rot. That’s why delphiniums thrive in British gardens and, in America, in northern regions and along the Northwest and Northeast coasts.

Don’t try to keep delphiniums cool by putting their heads in too much shade; they tolerate some shade but generally like full sun best.

If you really love delphiniums, have some replacement plants ready for when older ones expire. Older plants can be — should be, eventually — divided, or new ones can be started from seed.

These days, I’m not nearly so fastidious about sowing delphinium seeds as I once was. I just shake out seeds from a reasonably fresh packet and sow them without any special treatment. Occasionally my delphiniums self-sow. I keep my eyes out for these tiny “volunteers” and then transplant them to where I want tall, blue spires.

No need to pine away for the blue spires once this bloom season passes: If the stalks with spent blossoms are cut back to the bottom whorl of leaves, new flower stalks will spring forth that should bloom again later this season.

More in Life

Cabbage, potatoes, salmon and an assortment of pantry staples make for a culinary challenge. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Take a culinary pop quiz

Get creative with what’s in your pantry

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Sometimes I wonder, who needs who

Dog whispers we are not. Suckers for unconditional love, you bet.

This undated John E. Thwaites photo, perhaps taken near Seward, shows the S.S. Dora grounded. (Alaska State Library photo collection)
Resilience of the Dora, part 3

Her long career had come to an end at last.

Meredith Harber (courtesy)
Minister’s Message: Don’t let termination dust bring you down

If I’m honest, this time of year is the hardest for me mentally and emotionally.

Pieces hang on display at the Kenai Art Center for the open call show on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
‘They felt like they could share with us now’

Art center open call offers space for new artists.

The Cosmic Hamlet Entertainment film crew prepares for a new scene to roll on the set of “Bolt from the Blue” at the Kilcher Homestead on Sept. 28. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
‘Bolt from the Blue’ film features Homer

“The Office” star Kate Flannery cast in feature film produced in Homer.

These old-fashioned doughnuts don’t skimp on the fat or sugar. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Memories of old-fashioned doughnuts

My recipe is for old-fashioned doughnuts, and since I make these maybe twice a year, I don’t skimp on the sugar and fat.

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: October is here again

The days are shorter. We are losing nearly six minutes a day. It’s getting colder.

This John E. Thwaites photo shows the S.S. Dora near Sand Point, Alaska. Thwaites sailed as mail clerk on the Dora between at least 1905 and 1912. (Alaska State Library photo collection)
Resilience of the Dora, part 2

The S.S. Dora touched lives on and became part of the history of the Kenai Peninsula and Southcentral Alaska.

Steller Sea Lions can be seen in an enclosure at the Alaska SeaLife Center on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska SeaLife Center to Alaskans: We’re still here for you

You rallied and kept us alive. Today, we’re writing to say thank you.

A wood-carved whale hangs in the Nikiski Senior Center on Sept. 23, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the Nikiski Senior Center)
Whale of a job

Nikiski Senior Center gets addition to dining room.

Tomato soup with grilled cheese. (Photo by Tressa Dale)
On the strawberry patch: The comfort of tomato soup

When I was very young, my mother would make me tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches on days when I was feeling down.