Bor­der Con­trol

Del­phini­ums are divine, but de­mand­ing. Here is how to man­age th­ese dif­fi­cult di­vas to cre­ate a frame of el­e­gance and beauty...

Rutherglen Reformer - - House & Home - Diar­muid Gavin

They’re the plants that al­ways draw the ad­mir­ing glances at flower shows or in gar­dens. They’re the grand dames of the herba­ceous bor­der, el­e­gant and stat­uesque peren­ni­als with beau­ti­ful spires cov­ered in blos­soms. They’re del­phini­ums – divine but def­i­nitely de­mand­ing.

So let’s take a look at how to man­age th­ese dif­fi­cult di­vas!

Start them off in a good, welldrained soil in full sunshine.

They rot in wa­ter­logged soil over win­ter so add grit if nec­es­sary when plant­ing. Add or­ganic com­post as well – well­rot­ted ma­nure would be ideal as they are hun­gry feed­ers.

A sprin­kling of blood, fish and bone ev­ery so of­ten through the sea­son is good too. A layer of mulch will help re­tain mois­ture in the soil.

Del­phini­ums are prone to pow­dery mildew, a fun­gus that thrives in dry con­di­tions.

If they do get this fun­gus – which you can iden­tify as a white pow­dery sub­stance on the leaves that can also get dis­torted and stunted – you can treat with ei­ther or­ganic or chem­i­cal fungi­cide. But preven­tion is al­ways bet­ter than cure, so keep your plants well-wa­tered.

Snails are the other great en­emy – they just love to munch on fresh del­phinium fo­liage in spring and sum­mer.

Use all your means to de­ter – or­ganic slug pel­lets work well and they won’t harm wildlife.

En­cour­ag­ing birds to your gar­den is prob­a­bly one of the best meth­ods to con­trol slugs and snails.

A home­made method is gar­lic drench – boil up some bulbs of gar­lic in wa­ter, strain off and use a cou­ple of tea­spoons of the mix­ture di­luted in your wa­ter­ing can.

A reg­u­lar drench­ing with this on your plants is said to be a big turn-off for the slugs.

Other nat­u­ral meth­ods are us­ing ne­ma­todes – small worms which are added to the soil – and the tried and tested beer traps and cop­per rings.

The big­ger delphs will need stak­ing. Plant size can range from small to tall so choose ac­cord­ingly if you don’t want the fuss of stak­ing.

You can use steel ring hoops, bam­boo canes or twigs from the gar­den as sup­port.

Don’t tie in too tightly – al­low for some gen­tle sway in the breeze so that the stems don’t snap.

When your plants ma­ture over a few years, you can start to thin out the flower spikes. This is op­tional – it’s only if you want the plant to fo­cus its en­ergy on pro­duc­ing some spec­tac­u­lar spikes.

Ei­ther way, cut back af­ter flow­er­ing and you will likely get a sec­ond, smaller flush of flow­ers in Septem­ber.

The eas­i­est way to prop­a­gate is by tak­ing basal cut­tings in spring. This is just snap­ping off a new shoot at the base of the plant – re­move lower leaves and in­sert in cut­ting com­post.

You can also grow from seed early in the year.

As your plant ma­tures over a few years, you can lift and divide.

They’re won­der­ful at the back or mid­dle of the bor­der, bring­ing an ex­plo­sion of ver­ti­cal colour.

Other plants which per­form a sim­i­lar func­tion are fox­gloves, ere­mu­rus, hol­ly­hock and some of the tall cam­pan­u­las. But they’re also gor­geous scat­tered ran­domly, the clas­sic cot­tage gar­den plant. And they make the best cut flower.

Their colour pal­ette ranges from white and cream to light and dark blues, as well as some pinks and mauves. My favourites in­clude ‘Black Knight’, which is a deep dark blue, while ‘Blue Dawn’ is a beau­ti­ful sky blue colour with a black eye at its cen­tre and reaches up to 5ft 6ins so needs stak­ing.

Prima don­nas: Del­phini­ums need a lot of look­ing af­ter In-spired: The laven­der ver­sion

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