Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pacific Giant Delphiniums

I gave in to an impulse purchase the other day.  I was at Ontario Seed in Waterloo, and I saw seeds for Pacific Giant delphiniums. In fact I had wanted to get Pacific Giant seeds or plants for some time, but I could only find on offer the shorter varieties of delphiniums which are much more popular nowadays. It is understandable that the tall Pacific Giants would not be as much in demand. They take a lot of room, snap easily in the wind and are heavy feeders. However, it seems to me that the very essence of the delphinium is to be big and stately. When well grown, these giant strains look spectacular.

The nicest I have ever seen were grown at Quatre Vents, the magnificent garden of the late Frank Cabot in La Malbaie, Québec (if you have access to a good library, look up The Greater Perfection by Francis Cabot to see why this is one of the greatest gardens in North America).  The plants themselves were not yet impressive, since I saw them early in the season when they were just about a foot high and not yet in bloom. What was impressive was the staking of these delphiniums. The complex network of strings between bamboo poles that had been set up to support them once they reached their potential was simply a work of art. It was done with so much care and precision that it looked like a modern sculpture rather than a purely utilitarian prop. All this delicate scaffolding was to disappear in the summer when the plants filled out, but in the mean time it made the planting interesting when these delphiniums were just a promise of things to come.

I had some vague memory that delphinium seeds sprout at low temperatures. I remember many years ago having some success starting them on a window sill in an unheated bedroom. After checking, I see that they germinate at temperatures between 18° and 24°C, which are not that cool, but that once the seeds have sprouted, they are to be grown at cooler temperatures. That suits me, as cool temperatures are not difficult to provide, especially this year when winter seems to be taking its own good time to depart.

I put my seeds between wet paper towels, in a plastic bag, in the fridge. Two weeks of cold treatment is supposed to be enough.

I can already see that the difficult period will be when they start growing. At that time, there will be so many things to do in the garden that it will become difficult to keep an eye on them. This is the perennial problem - most seeds tend to come up at the same time.

I only have a vague idea of where I am going to put them if they do grow. In that way, it was an impulse buy. They should end up somewhere near the fence to protect them from the wind, not in the main flower border but as a backdrop to the vegetables. 

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