Delphinium Elatum: Cheerfulness, Goodwill, Openness

Delphinium Elatum: Cheerfulness, Goodwill, Openness

Towering above most ornamental garden plants, the bloom spikes of one plant, delphinium elatum, are as blue as the sky they reach toward. Used in cottage gardens and herbaceous borders, their lush foliage forms attractive mounds when not in bloom.

With blooms ranging from bisque white to deep cobalt blue, delphiniums are celebrated for their rich color and striking texture. Part of the Ranunculeae family, there are over 250 species of delphinium, but the Delphinium elatum variety is the preferred cultivar for showy flower gardens. Also called Bee or Candle Larkspur, Delphinium elatum has been extensively bred for height, hardiness, and large blooms.

Delphinium Elatum: Cheerfulness, Goodwill, Openness

The darker center of each flower is referred to as a “bee.” Delphinium flowers are associated with protection and love, as well as reaching for the impossible.

Delphiniums in Mythology and Legend

It is said that the name “delphinium” comes from the ancient Greek word for dolphin delphiníon — δελφίνι — a reference to the individual flower form (especially the bud), which resembles the bottle nose of a dolphin.

Delphinium Elatum: Cheerfulness, Goodwill, Openness

But the flower’s Greek origin story is a touch darker. After Achilles was killed in the Battle of Troy, Ajax and Ulysses fought over who would keep his armor. After the armor was given to Ulysses, Ajax took his own life by falling upon his sword. Where his blood touched the earth, delphiniums rose up with his initials A I A inscribed on each petal.

Historic Uses for Delphinium

Native Americans used the deep blue flowers of delphinium to make dye. European settlers to America used the native larkspur blooms for crafting blue ink. However, the use of these flowers goes back to ancient times, when they were used to make a poison for killing pests and lice. Note: All parts of the delphinium plant are toxic, especially the seeds. Make sure that they are not accessible to small children, pets, or grazing animals.

These days, delphiniums are popular as perennial garden plants and lend themselves well to cut flower arrangements. Because their flower stalks have very few leaves, they are well suited for colorful indoor displays, where they can last a week or longer.

Delphinium Elatum: Cheerfulness, Goodwill, Openness
Where to See Extraordinary Delphiniums

Many gardens feature the breathtaking blue spikes of larkspur, but few take it to the level of Godinton House and Garden in Kent, England. Their delphinium elatum collection is spectacular to behold in the summer — so much so that they plan annual events around the elatum bloom cycles. The VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, British Columbia, always has an impressive array of delphiniums displayed among sculptural art.

Delphinium Elatum: Cheerfulness, Goodwill, Openness

For a truly special treat, keep an eye on the Royal Horticultural Society Garden Wisley, where a round of delphinium trials will be conducted from 2022 until 2025. It is possible to visit the garden virtually, but if you happen to be around Surrey, England, during this time, don’t miss the chance to see delphiniums performing at their peak in one of the world’s great gardens.

Popular Delphinium Varieties
Delphinium Elatum: Cheerfulness, Goodwill, Openness

Though mostly associated with the color blue, Delphinium elatum varieties offer a solid range of colors. The most popular are the following:

Delphinium Elatum: Cheerfulness, Goodwill, Openness
Can I Grow Delphiniums Successfully?

Despite a reputation for being challenging, delphiniums are hardy plants that need only a little care and attention to become truly magnificent.

Delphiniums grow best with a combination of full sun, good air circulation, and rich, well-drained alkaline soil. Plants should stand at least two feet apart to ensure adequate air circulation. Applying a light dusting of lime once or twice during the growing season and feeding with a well-balanced commercial fertilizer in the spring will ensure strong blooms.

You can start delphiniums from seed in the fall, but for guaranteed success, you should purchase potted plants and transplant into the garden in the spring.

Delphinium Elatum: Cheerfulness, Goodwill, Openness

It is almost always necessary to stake the taller delphinium varieties to prevent damage from wind and storms. If you prefer not to stake, plant a dwarf or semi-dwarf variety. Cutting the bloom stem to the ground once the flowers have faded will often result in a second set of blooms in the fall.

Delphinium Elatum: Cheerfulness, Goodwill, Openness

Size: 4-6 ft (120-180 cm) tall

Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8

Light Duration: Full sun

Soil: Rich, well-drained soil with a neutral pH or slightly alkaline

Blooming Time: Summer