We’ve been waiting a long time for a good book on delphiniums and at last we have it. Delphiniums, by the English couple David and Shirley Bassett, covers both the familiar flamboyant Elatum Hybrids and many wild species and the various forms of them grown in gardens – and everything in between.
Elegantly designed, and with many mostly excellent photographs, the book begins with an overview of the wild species, mainly from Yunnan and California, enhanced by close up pictures of leaves and individual flowers. The Elatum Group, Belladonna Group, Grandiflorum Group and the wild species are then discussed with the emphasis very much on cultivars and species which are available to gardeners at the present time. There are extensive sections of growing, propagation and breeding with an especially enlightening section on growing border delphiniums in pots.
The book is packed with fascinating detail, history, comparisons of similar cultivars – the many decades of devotion which the Bassetts have given to delphiniums is obvious and we’re fortunate that they finally gave in to years of persuasion and wrote the book. Their writing style is clear and accessible, pictures show mature plants, individual florets, foliage, roots and tubers, propagation and cultural techniques, and problems – rarely have so many parts of the plants been shown in a monograph when so often all we are given is flower shots. In one section the color reproduction is rather watery but their painstaking photography is a treat. And unlike the index found in many monographs, material other than the plants themselves is included (people, places, topics…) which is as it should be.
However… I’m reluctant to mention it, really, but I feel there’s a problem with the book. The many named Elatum Hybrids, and indeed the other delphiniums too, are discussed in color groups. This is very helpful in comparing one with another - but nowhere is there a descriptive list of them. When I first opened the book and saw the discussion I was pleased – because I expected and A-Z descriptive list as well. Unfortunately not. I know this would have added to the price, but descriptions covering height, flowering season, spike length and shape, floret size and color, and so on would have made a book which is excellent as far as it goes truly superb.
But make no mistake, this is an excellent book, which will impress and inform anyone interested in delphiniums.
[Declaration of interest: I helped hook up the Bassetts with their publisher.]