Delphinium Envy: The So Cal Garden Blues Blues

Southern California is not the place for Delphiniums. Yes, you can grow them here, or rather you buy them ready to bloom: tentative, brief, stunted, heat-seniled versions of the glory they achieve year in and out in the climates of New Zealand, the Pacific North West, and the United Kingdom. So it is less glorious, but perhaps wiser, to look elsewhere for the coveted blue color for this particular garden.

There is nothing bluer (except a Delphinium, of course) than the biennial Anagalis monelli, which the first year gives a hint of blue in a soft green pillow of foliage, and the following year turns into a sheet of blue before withering:



The old reliable Lobelia 'Cambridge Blue' betrays a hint of purple, but being "reliable" in every way, is a must-have. It reseeds just enough to keep the garden supplied year in and year out. The volunteer seedlings can be moved around as needed, or left to the odd places they choose for themselves.



Another highly reliable annual for your blue fix is Ageratum houstonianum. Again, it reseeds just enough to keep the garden supplied with fuzzy pools of blue.



Then there are Iris. They photograph much bluer than they are, the teases. You may buy the blue catalog picture, but what you end up with is the purple flowered plant. The bluest are the very pale ones, such as this aptly named, strongly scented 'Heavenly Vision':



The blue pansies are truly blue, as blue as Delphiniums. But they lie at your feet, needy puppies gazing up at you. Delphiniums look you straight in the eye, or even down at you. What compares to that? Perhaps Echium fastuosum? The blue is not delphinium blue, but the spike is bold and lordly.



Echium fastuosum forms a large shrub. It's a commitment in space if not water, and its glory is relatively brief, a few years.

A longer commitment in space AND water are Hydrangeas, which must be chemically blued up here in high pH-land with aluminum sulfate applied with a fan's devotion. It is as Botox to a movie star--a star is already good looking, but the camera requires perfection. A lacecap:



And 'Endless Summer', which needs more treatments than it got here:


Clematis, like Iris, are blue-teases. They photograph bluer than they really are. Still, they come close enough at times. Clematis 'Angelique',



and especially 'Perle d'Azur', make up in general gorgeousness what they lack in blueness.



We must also remember (and not without a little satisfaction) that which struggles in the lush rainy coolness of New Zealand, the Pacific North West, and the UK, just as Delphiniums struggle here: blue succulent plants.


Agave americana we will avoid. The blue is tempting, but the hooks, the spines, the mass, and a bloom spike the size of a telephone pole is too much. It's a prison fence, not a plant. Much less intimidating is Agave 'Blue Flame', a deep sheeny metallic blue with oxblood edging, various Aloes, and Mariana sedifolia, Pearl Blue Bush, which dances like an angel on the pinhead convergence between baby blue, white and silver. No kow-towing to Delphiniums, she.

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