National Collection: Delphinium elatum at Regent's Park, London

During my trip to London I spent a lot of time outside in parks and gardens, soaking up as much sun and warmth as I could. I visited Regent's Park for the first time, mostly to see the roses in the Queen Mary's Garden. But that's a post for another day. Right now I want to share another part of the park and some of the most unreal-looking blooms I've seen growing outdoors:

Encourage the propagation and conservation of cultivated plants in the British Isles; encourage and conduct research into cultivated plants, their origins, their historical and cultural importance and their environments; and encourage the education of the public in cultivated plant conservation.
— Plant Heritage

Regent's Park holds full National Collection status for this planting of Delphinium elatum hybrids that have received the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) from the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). That's a lot of pomp, circumstance and acronym for my non-British readers, but what it boils down to is that the National Collection scheme is one way Plant Heritage, a charity also known as the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and & Gardens, seeks to:

AGM plants are simply plants approved by the RHS, the nation's (and some argue, the world's) leading horticultural organization dedicated to "excellence in the science, art and practice of horticulture." As a student of horticulture at the Botanics, my curriculum is based on RHS-recommended practices, and many an hour was spent studying from their fantastic books and Web site. The AGM is basically a seal of approval, and is awarded by the RHS only after extensive trialing by nurserymen, qualified horticulturists and academic institutions.

But back to this special collection of Delphinium elatum...

I don't think I've ever seen flowers quite this blue, unless perhaps on Meconopsis betonicifolia (Himalayan Blue Poppy). As blue as those little poppies are, their scale is tiny compared to these inflorescences that were several feet long. True blues are rare in the plant world, and 'Langdon's Pandora' grabbed my attention from across the park.

The plants and their blooms were pristine, but I found the staking very distracting. I know staking is necessary with such overbred, top-heavy blooms, and it was clearly done in a neat and professional manner, but I wonder if there's a way to provide more subtle support. As a start I'd use darker-colored stakes, to better blend with the foliage than the blonde bamboo, and I'd make the stakes shorter as the tops of them weren't being used (although it's possible they're long to add another layer of jute twine to support the blooms).

Last winter in horticultural practices we learned how to create birch supports for what would, when spring came, be a large clump of Delphinium. The birch branches were inserted in the ground, bent over, and the twiggy tops interwoven to form a cube-like armature. Now, at the height of summer, the plants have grown large enough to totally obscure the support while remaining tidy and upright.

I have a natural aversion to plants that have to be corseted and trussed to stay upright, but as this is a display collection in a public park, grown without the natural support and disguise provided in a mixed border, I can almost see the justification.

It was nice to spend some time with a genus of plant that I normally don't pay much mind but I so strongly associate with British gardening. As gaudy as these plants are, there's no denying they are impressive examples of both breeding and cultivation.