Amazing annuals: larkspur
Perfect for cutting and as environmentally-sustainable confetti.
This is a true annual – though being hardy it can be treated as a biennial – so fits into this series without any controversy. But, despite my preference for eschewing common names, for clarity, I am using the common name here because the botanical name of this simple, cottage plant can be either Delphinium ajacis or Consolida ambigua – or any various combination of these words!
Robinson either explains or confuses further with his descriptons: ‘D. ajacis majus‘ the large larkspur, D. ajacis minor‘ the dwarf larkspur and ‘D. consolida‘ the branched larkspur. Seed selections today do tend to be either those with stocky, thick spikes of flower – hyacinth-flowered are short and ‘Giant Imperial’ are – er- giant, and the more diffuse, well branched, single-flowered kinds.
I must confess that it is not my favourite annual and that is partly because delphiniums confound me. I like them but the tall ‘elatum’ types need and deserve constant attention and the genus includes so many, varied species that I have not quite got my head around them. But annual larkspur is deserving a place in the garden for its fabulous flowers, in a wide colour palette. And they are relatively easy to grow, sown direct where they are to grow. As Robinson explains ‘ Annual Larkspurs should be sown where they are to remain at any time after February when the weather permits – usually in March and April. They may also be sown in September and October, and even later when the ground is not frozen, but the produce of winter sowing is liable to be devoured by slugs and grubs. ‘
It is odd that plants that are so universally poisonous to us should be so beloved of molluscs – snails and slugs are the worst pest of perennial delphiniums. Delphiniums are found throughout the Northern hemisphere but larkspur is native to eastern Europe, eastwards.
Like all hardy annuals, once the seedlings are large enough to handle they should be thinned so that those left have room to grow.
There are some amazing colours among larkspurs, from rich, pure colours to pastels and striped flowers. The tallest can reach 1m or more, rivalling the perennial delphiniums for effect.
Larkspur dry well. You can cut the flowers when most of the buds have opened on all the blooms and hang them to dry in a dark, airy place, upside down, or just remove individual flowers for pot pouri. In any case you should cut off the stems when the last flowers are opening at the top of the spikes, to prevent seed formation and keep plants blooming longer.
I also think that they are excellent, but in other people’s gardens. They are not my favorite either. I do like blue though.