Underachieving Perennials at May Dreams Gardens

Here at May Dreams Gardens, I’d like to give everyone the impression that all plants grow to their fullest potential. There are no under-achieving plants in my garden!

But since keeping up appearances is so much harder than just telling the truth, I’m following the lead of Jodi at Bloomingwriter and posting about my lack of success with some perennials. Or at least my lack of success with one particular perennial.

This will be therapeutic for me, plus perhaps someone might read this and have some good advice for me to follow to turn my failure into success.


I would love to grow a decent Delphinium, but have failed to do so.

At my previous garden, years ago, I did manage to buy a Delphinium, plant it in the garden and have it bloom. But then it died and didn’t come back. After that experience, and after reading that Delphiniums just don’t do well around here, I gave up. Perennials that behave as annuals and disappear after one year can get quite expensive.

Then last December, Kathy at Cold Climate Gardening wrote a post that mentioned the Foerster hybrid Delphiniums and I decided I should try to grow Delphiniums again.

I found a seed source online and ordered up two packets of seed. I sowed one packet of seed in the spring and got a very high percentage that germinated. My excitement grew, and I started to plan where I would put all these Delphiniums and how I would stake those tall spires of blue flowers in my garden.

Carefully, gently, as the seedlings grew I planted each in its own container. They survived, they continued to grow, but they were still inside.

Once it was reliably warm outside, I decided that my little Delphinium seedlings should go outside to begin to harden off and face the real world. One, two weeks went by. All looked good.

Then one day, I looked closer at my little seedlings and found that something was eating their leaves. Could it be chipmunks? Rabbits? Slugs? I looked and could find nothing obvious eating them. So I set them up on a bench, thinking that if it was chipmunks or rabbits they’d be safe up higher.

The next day, there were hardly any leaves remaining and I found a tiny green worm on what was left of one stem.

But even though my little seedlings no longer had leaves, like any gardener, I continued to water them, hoping that there was just enough of something left, a few plant cells perhaps, to grow another leaf or two, and one or two seedlings would make it.

Soon, I was just watering pots of dirt with no sign of the Delphinums. Finally, in late October I dumped the dirt out of the pots and thought about what might have been.

I had underachieved, failed, again in my quest to grow Delphiniums.

But I’m not giving up! I’ve come too far, invested too much, dreamed too long. I still have the second packet of seeds, which I’ve kept in the refrigerator. I’m going to attempt to winter sow them, and hopefully get a few seedlings with that method. Plus, I’m going to order more seeds to sow again this spring.

I want to be successful at growing Delphiniums. Does anyone have any advice for me?

(By the way, the picture above is obviously not a Delphinium. It is Phlox ‘Crème de Menthe’, a favorite perennial in my garden. Wouldn’t it look good with some tall Delphiniums growing behind it?)


  1. Restoring the garden at the Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site requires a large bed of delphiniums. She grew them; why can't I? The seeds sprouted but withered, so I bought three plants. They bloomed and rebloomed after deadheading, but will they come up next spring? I really need to find heritage delphinium seeds though.

  2. If you figure out how to grow Delphiniums I want you to tell me how. I have never had any luck with them either. I always thought it was just too hot during summer for them here. It couldn't be anything I was doing wrong. ;)

  3. carol - i wanted to grow delphiniums but your post doesnt give me much hope! i had not realized they were such a pain! i still love that creme de menthe.

  4. I had my first delphinium this summer and it was beautiful. I hope it will come back. I have seeds too so I may try to grow them myself.

    It is frustrating to buy perennials and not have them come back. Most garden centers offer refunds on failed perennials. Does anyone actually get refunds on perennials that die? I have for trees and shrubs that died, but I never have for perennials, it's too hard to keep up with them.

  5. Delphinium can be very spleeny, and they don't like a lot of summer heat, Carol. Probably that's why they do well here. Plus some of the cultivars are only good for a couple of years unless you divide them.
    what you might try, and you too Gina, and you too Lisa, is the Chinese Delphinium. It's shorter in size but it has those hauntingly beautiful cobalt blue flowers that send some of us into a frenzy. There are several cultivars, including Blue Butterfly, Blue Mirror, Blue Elf...they are also not longlasting, but they tend to seed a bit. Worth trying, I think.

  6. When you achieve success you have to share what you've learned with us other delphinium deadbeats (larkspur losers?). I can start them from seed, or buy an expensive 1 gal plant, it doesn't matter. Slugs will wipe it out within hours, it seems. Like you, I did get a flower, once, from an expensive plant, but then it disappeared like all the others.

  7. I adore delphinium. My mother always had borders filled with them. That was up north, in NY. I can't grow them at all here in NJ. Everything I read says that you can only successfully grow delphinium where the summers are cool. That definitely rules out NJ.

  8. I buy new delphiniums every year with wild hopes of gorgeous spires. Sigh. My mother-in-law has a single delphinium in her yard that's 10 years old and HUGE. THe crown is like, 14" across! She lives in Wyoming, and her soil is very sandy and free draining, not very hot in the summer and pretty dry (though they water the yard). I am thinking this time I will try my delphs in a raised bed that has a LOT of sand in it? Now phlox, I can't grow that either. Well, I can, but it gets so much mildew on it by the end of the season that I can't stand it. Oh well!
    ~Angela :-)

  9. I bought a posh cobalt blue Delphinium at the Biltmore, probably one of the smaller Chinese ones Jodi mentioned. It does have a Blue something cultivar name. It didn't grow at all, but bloomed forever and set seed. I sowed the seed in another spot and got some germination back in the fall. Will those tiny seedlings survive the winter. Will more seeds sprout in the spring? Will the parent plant come back next year. I think I qualify as cool in the summertime. Maybe I will be able to grow Delphinium.

  10. Earth Girl... if you find some good heritage seeds that work for you in the GSP garden, let me know, they just might work for me!

    Lisa at Greenbow... the heat of the summer may be a problem. But believe you me, if I'm successful, I'll tell everyone how I did it.

    Gina... Try some... you never know, you might have a special touch with them that others don't have.

    Robin's Nesting Place... I've never taken back a perennial. Uusally if it fails it is because it disappears on me.

    Jodi... Thank you! Chinese Delphinium is on my list to try.

    Molly... Likewise, if you have success with delphiniums, let me know!

    OldRoses... I refuse to give up. After all, I've only tried a few varieties and there have to be dozens and dozens to try.

    Angela (Cottage Magpie)... I have heard good drainage is also important. I'll keep that in mind.

    Christopher C. NC... Maybe you will have success with delphiniums. We'll watch for summer posts of them!

    Thanks all for your comments and suggestions!

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens


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