#33 Delphinium

Delphiniums at Hestercombe -- EKS


Delphiniums, commonly identified with larkspur, are members of the Ranunculacae family. Growing from a basil clump that typically forms a spike from twelve inches to seven feet tall, they are known for their intensely blue/ purple flowers and are often massed in the backs of perennial borders (Hogan 478-9).  The name has several derivations, all coming from the characteristic spur shape of the young flowers which are said to resemble dolphins, or the spur of a lark’s claw, or even “Knight’s Spur.”[1]

Delphiniums are rare in Woolf’s work, appearing only four times: once in a garden, once in an essay, and twice in the florist shop in Mrs. Dalloway. In June of 1919 Woolf celebrated the appearance of a delphinium in the garden of what appears to be Hogarth House in London (D1 281), and in her August review of the annual exhibition at the “Royal Academy” that same year, she criticized the rosy romanticism of dozens of stridently British garden scenes:  There must be well over ten thousand delphiniums in the Royal Academy, and not one is other than a perfect specimen” (E3 92). 
Henry John Sylvester Stannard, A Norfolk country house with blue delphiniums in the garden

However, when she inserts delphiniums into her fictional displays, she uses them in much the same way-- primarily as blocks of color providing a useful background.  In Mulberry’s florist shop they appear twice, massed with other flowers to create an effect of pastel variety.  The first time they add a range of heights as well as a darker note of color: “There were flowers: delphiniums, sweet peas, bunches of lilac; and carnations, masses of carnations.  There were roses; there were irises” (MD 12).  The second time they again appear in contrast to the “violet, snow white, pale” sweet peas, this time in her memory of “the superb summer’s day with its almost blue-black sky, its delphiniums, its carnations, its arum lilies” (MD 13). 

Wall of Delphiniums at Chelsea Flower Show  https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/13/Delph_1.jpg

Leonard recorded buying delphiniums for the garden at Monk’s House in 1938, many years after Virginia had ceased mentioning them.

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About 98 Flowers

Welcome to the Virginia Woolf Herbarium.  For many years I have been researching and writing about Virginia Woolf and parks, gardens, and fl...