Plant of the week: Larkspur - East Valley Tribune: At Home

Plant of the week: Larkspur

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Posted: Friday, August 10, 2007 3:55 pm | Updated: 5:45 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

If I’ve timed it right, most of you are beginning to get the ache inside, especially if you’ve just moved to the desert. It’s summer, and your internal time clock is pounding in your chest to get your hands into the earth. While the rest of the country is reveling in summer’s bounty, we’re indoors hibernating, waiting for the summer storms to end.

The plant: If I’ve timed it right, most of you are beginning to get the ache inside, especially if you’ve just moved to the desert. It’s summer, and your internal time clock is pounding in your chest to get your hands into the earth. While the rest of the country is reveling in summer’s bounty, we’re indoors hibernating, waiting for the summer storms to end. It doesn’t help when the movies we watch and magazines we read are filled with luscious green gardens and captivating flower beds. I shared this ache until I began to grow larkspur.

This lovely flower gave me hope. It was the first cottage flower I was able to grow, and grow it did. I’ve had a repeating stand of larkspur in my front-yard flower bed for the last 10 years without ever replanting a single new seed. Because it and many other flowers and vegetables are planted in the fall, I turned the ache into action. I now found summer break divine. I used it to read garden catalogs, shop online and draw plans for gardens. Larkspur has become one of my favorite flowers. It is not only a cinch to grow, but also adds drama and long-lasting color to the garden.

It’s native to southern Europe, where it’s also known as “annual delphinium.” In medieval times, larkspur was used to heal wounds because it helped firm or consolidate blood. In England during Tudor times, the name larkspur became common, as part of the plant resembled a lark’s claw. In the language of flowers, larkspur means fickleness. If you were born in July, this is your flower.

Growing guide: Full to partial sun

Culture: Prepare soil for flowering plant cultivation. Larkspur is best planted in the fall. Recommend planting from seed, as transplants often perform poorly. Larkspur can grow 1 to 4 feet tall. Space transplants 18 inches to 24 inches apart. Be patient. Seeds will begin to sprout as the soil warms. Follow a regular watering schedule; you can always cut back in the event of heavy winter/spring rain. Once larkspur is established, it can become rather drought-tolerant, but will perform best with added water. Don’t overfeed, as you promote green growth and no flowers. A light all-purpose organic fertilizer with a 5-5-5 NPK once or twice during growing season is fine.

Maintenance: Larkspur is a “reseeding” annual. If you would like to invite larkspur back into your garden next season, let the flower stalks die and become brown. Mother Nature and wind will usually help disperse the seed for next season’s growth, or you can help by collecting the tiny black seeds from dried seedpods or shake stems to release, then hand broadcast. After the seed collection is over, you can remove the dead growth.

Barn Goddess tips: Larkspur is a must if you want to create a cottage garden look. Plant it with nasturtiums, poppy and ranunculus. Larkspur is considered an heirloom plant. Like collecting antiques, you can collect and grow plants with a link to our past. Most heirloom seed originates from plants grown during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Growing a plant that may have grown in Thomas Jefferson’s garden or at Versailles in France is thrilling. Since such plants have not been genetically modified or hybridized, they retain unique characteristics not easily found in today’s seed selections. Be sure to look for heirloom selections. Online, try Renee’s Garden, which offers selections including Imperial Alouette (tall, elegant spires from France in vibrant shades of iridescent purple, salmon, pink, lavender, lilac and white), Parisian Pink (florist quality with spires 3 to 5 feet tall packed with rose-pink double blossoms with just a hint of salmon) and Earl Grey (3- to 4-foot flower stalks filled with showy blossoms in a pastel shade of silver-mauve).

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