The colorful spires of larkspur punctuate many a Southerner's garden in spring. Unlike their regal cousins, the delphiniums, these natives of southern Europe flourish in the hot Southern climate. They die after flowering but reseed so readily that they might as well be perennials. The blooms attract butterflies and make superb cut flowers. Larkspurs look great in combination with Shirley poppies (Papaver rhoeas).
Plants grow 15 ft. tall, about 1 ft. wide. Flowers (double on most types) are up to 1 in. wide, borne on vertical spikes above deeply cut, almost fernlike leaves; blossom colors include blue, lilac, purple, pink, rose, salmon, and white. Improved strains branch at the base, producing several flower spikes per stalk. Disease-resistant Cannes Mix strain produces sturdy stems of double, tightly packed flowers to 45 ft. tall. Great cut flower in a wide range of single and bicolor shades. Giant Imperial strain bears 4- to 5-ft.-tall stalks of double, densely packed blossoms; Regal strain features thick spikes of large flowers similar to delphiniums, grows 45 ft. tall. Super Imperial strain produces cone-shaped spikes to 1 ft. tall. Heat-tolerant Steeplechase strain, 45 ft. tall, bears the largest flowers of all.
Of course, some folks prefer the simpler, unimproved larkspurs of their childhoods. Heirloom types include the following.
'Blue Bell'. Soft lilac-blue flowers on 3-ft. spikes. All-America Selections winner in 1934.
'Blue Cloud'. Airy, branching plant producing 3-ft. spikes of deep blue to purple blossoms.
'Earl Grey'. Erect, 3- to 4-ft. spikes of double blooms in a silvery mauve.
'White King'. Double white blossoms on sturdy, 3-ft. stalks. All-America Selections winner in 1937.
Plant seeds in fall where plants are to grow; sow them on bare soil and barely scratch in (do not mulch over them). For greatest impact, sow in large clusters or sweeps. After flowers fade, allow seeds to drop naturally for a casual look; or collect and store them for fall sowing.