Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)

delphiniums-2010See those flowers to the left there, depicted in my usual crappy cell-phone photo way?

You, unlike me until early this morning, probably knew immediately that they were delphiniums.

You, unlike me, would probably have remembered that three years ago you chose a packet of perennial flower seeds the way you choose most packets of flower seeds – because they are perennials (why not get the most bang for your buck?) and because of the beautiful non-cell phone photo on the front of the packet – and planted them haphazardly along the side of your garage and then forgot all about them, including their name.

That first year, when I was still in possession of all my faculties and remembered that I had in fact planted the seeds, I was annoyed but resigned that the beautiful blue flowers did not grow.

Why should they have grown, that was my attitude. I had just dug up that particular patch of dirt – I am gradually digging up my entire lawn – and in the process struck all manner of rocks and chunks of cement (lots of chunks of cement in that particular part of the lawn). It was not a hospitable place for man or beast, let alone flowers, and I scattered the seeds down and paid no more attention to them.

That  was the year – three years ago – that I planted all kinds of other perennials too, here there and everywhere, most of them plants that came from a half-price, originally 2-for-$.50 sale  – you do the math, but if you don’t want to let me just tell you, that’s less than fifteen cents apiece – at a church rummage sale and were half-dead when I bought them.

But they sprang to life, wildly, every one of them, and since they were not labeled when I bought them I had the pleasure of figuring out what they were as they grew. They grew so wildly, and they continue to grow so wildly, back there in the rock-and-cement dirt patch, that they’re making me nervous.

Are they, like, mutant flowers? If I don’t dig up the rest of the lawn soon (I live in a big city; it’s a tiny city backyard) they will begin to eat themselves. It will be a plant Donner party.

But back to the delphiniums. Because that’s what they are, and thank God I obeyed my instincts and did not pull them up when I was weeding the other day, because I went outside this morning to behold them in all their splendor.

Those delphiniums (delphinia? that seems logical but I don’t like the look of it) are huge. They’re taller than me by at least a foot, and I’m 5 foot 10.25 inches. Yes,  that’s right, the quarter-inch must not be forgotten.

Are they always that giant, or are mine just freakazoids? Luckily for all of us, this sort of question is just what the internet was invented for. In the last five minutes I  have learned that delphiniums are also known as larkspur, that they are beloved in England, that they can grow between six and eight feet tall, that they need to be staked, which I had already figured out, but instead of a careful tri-corner cage thing as described in various websites I just shoved a broken pitchfork handle into the ground and strung up the stems with a discarded birthday present ribbon, and that every bit of a delphinium plant is extremely poisonous – do not drink anything with delphinium in it, and for God’s sake do not eat even a single leaf of it, as you will vomit and/or die.

There is also, apparently, some sort of rivalry – snobbery? – going on between those gardeners who favor English delphiniums over the more common and no doubt lower-class varieties and those gardeners who will go to their deaths defending the rights of the underprivileged.

That delphinium pictured above could be transplanted British royalty or a single mother living in transitional housing and working three jobs to keep her children fed and clothed. It does not matter to me, as I, being the queen of garden haphazardness, have no idea which variety I have.

This frees me to love that delphinium for itself, even though it is taller than me, and I generally like to be the tallest.


  1. hhb · June 9, 2010

    I’m a perennial planter too. Don’t you love the fact that your plants hung in there, no matter the amount of digging. They were just waiting to bring some gorgeous blue to your day!


  2. alison · June 9, 2010

    I do love that! There’s something about planting perennials from seed, too – they take years to settle in, and then when they do, it’s like magic.


  3. Pepper · June 10, 2010

    You continue to crack me up, yet hit the profound truths of life.


  4. oreo · June 15, 2010

    i have always wondered what, exactly, were larkspur and delphiniums, having no idea they were one and the same, and without my even having to search for it, the answer entered my life. would all such wonderment come to such an easy end. i recall being a very young child, holed up in my room reading a stack of nancy drews, in one of which larkspur were prominently mentioned. the name implied spikey and perky and sprightly and bright, all of which they seem to be, from what i can tell of a crappy cell phone photo. any decorative plant that towers over its planter probably merits at the very least a place in a mystery book setting.


  5. Pepper · June 17, 2010

    I have just re-read this piece. Wherein is there mention of geraniums?


  6. alison · June 17, 2010

    Sharp eyes, Pepper! There is no mention of geraniums. That title is a line from an A.A. Milne poem for children.


  7. Lucy · July 2, 2010

    I always loved that poem. My mum read all the AA Milne poems to me, but she read that with a kind of half-smile and knowingness, like it carried something important that I might not understand yet but one day I would.

    Even though the doctor, who thinks he knows best, forces changes to the dormouse’s world, the dormouse can still close his eyes and imagine his blue and red flower bed back again, can feel it at the back of his head, and no one can take that away from you.

    I saw a quite luminous ultra-violet delphinium in one of my favourite flowery places the other day. Sadly the slugs love them in these damper parts of the world!


  8. Diana · July 21, 2010

    Ha! We have some of these, too, and while they’re not quite as tall as yours [yet!] the only thing I look forward to seeing bloom more is a tree peony. In case you hadn’t noticed, if you cut them back, delphiniums will keep blooming throughout the summer!


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