The Case of the Missing Larkspur


pic of lovely larkspur from Bespoke Confetti

Every gardener has their own personal nemesis in the garden. Without doubt mine is larkspur. I can root out ground elder. I can deal with plagues of slugs with a combination of copper bands, sacrificial lettuce and late night forays into the garden with a bucket of salty water. I can plant endless patches of calendula to attract aphid eating hoverflies. But I can’t germinate larkspur for love nor money.

True. It’s a bit fussy but, despite what my children think, I can follow rules to the letter occasionally. (I am the mother who drives the wrong way round the car park and sends her children to school on an Inset Day…. but that was only once and I did rescue them within ten minutes of their leaving the house.)

I love larkspur which says something about its delights as it comes in colours other than red. I dream of vast swathes of the British countryside covered with larkspur of varying hues, like a giant patchwork quilt. It’s sickening to think I can’t sow even a small patch on the allotment.

A few weeks ago Rosie Ellis very generously provided an online seed sowing masterclass for anyone who wanted to grow luscious larkspur. That’d be me then. In a nutshell, here are her top tips:

  •  Use fresh seed. This is more about the conditions in which seed is stored than how old it is. Larkspur remains viable for years provided that it is cold stored and not exposed to heat in transit. If you’re serious about larkspur, buy online from a recognised supplier who is open about how they store their seed. I bought seed fresh this year from Kings Seeds, who know their stuff, according to Rosie.
  • The best time to sow is in the first two weeks of September. This allows the seed to germinate and form a small flat rosette which will withstand the Winter. It also allows vernalisation to take place. (Bear with me, it’s explained below!) Result – strong larkspur with long stems and prolonged flowering. Chance would be a fine thing. Do you know how busy I was at the start of September?
  •  If you sow in Spring then you need to do so as soon as the ground becomes workable to ensure that the plant has the necessary six week exposure to cold temperatures. It’s called vernalisation. (Useful for pub quiz nights and Scrabble.) Bradford on Avon was under water for weeks and then we had a heatwave. I took remedial action and stored my seed in the freezer.
  • Cover lightly. Sorted. I can do that.
  • Sow direct into the ground as larkspur doesn’t like root disturbance but if your soil is clay, you’re stuffed as larkspur doesn’t like to have its feet sitting in water. I’m stuffed.
  • Larkspur needs a free draining soil. See previous point. I garden on clay but I am an optimist and reckon that I can sow into trays and carefully transplant before my plants get too big. Next time I’ll remember to sow into a seed tray with drainage holes. Then when a downpour happens my larkspur won’t drown.

I’m giving larkspur one last go this season………. in a seed tray with drainage holes, having refrigerated it first and having left it outside to fend for itself. Tough love might just do the trick!

Fortunately I have a plan B. It’s called ‘get your business partner to sow extra and swop for something she wants.’ Thank goodness for Sara.


Yes of course I’ll be giving larkspur a go in September.


Because gardeners are optimists, always believing that next time things will be better and I REFUSE TO BE BEATEN.

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