May favourite: Aquilegia vulgaris

Posted by editor on Saturday, 6 May 2017

Our garden is full of columbines (Aquilegia) this year – ‘dancing columbines’ as my grandmother used to call them.  We love their extraordinary shapes, bright and exotic colour – or even black as night colour!

I’m sure we will see plenty of Aquilegia on our day trip and picnic on 8th June, visiting Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plant Nursery and Bere Mill Farm garden. Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants is a small family run independent nursery based in Hampshire, www.hardys-plants.co.uk where they grow a wide range of home produced herbaceous perennials.  

Aquilegia are members of the buttercup family; perennial wildflowers whose native habitat ranges from the woodlands of North America, Europe and Siberia to the mountains of China.

There are at least seventy species of Aquilegia, including Britain’s native Aquilegia vulgaris.  When grown together most can form hybrids, producing a bewildering range of horticultural hybrid varieties of uncertain parentage that go under the general name of Aquilegia x hybrida.

Clump-forming herbaceous perennials with long-stalked, ternately divided basal leaves and erect, leafy stems bearing bell-shaped flowers with spreading, coloured sepals and petals with spurs, on branched stems

Common names include granny’s nightcap, granny’s bonnet and dancing columbine.  Names that happily reflect the sometimes garishly coloured hybrids – their delicately pleated flowers waving on tall, wire-thin stems, often with curled and elongated spurs.

Among our favourites are ‘Nivea’ and ‘Black Barlow’.  ‘Nivea’ is pure white; an upright plant to 80cm, with divided, light green leaves and abundant, creamy-white flowers 5cm in width, with short, curled spurs.  It comes true from seed, and looks lovely in small colonies. June-July. 76 cm.

By way of a complete contrast Barlow forms are like spiky pompoms and are actually a full double stellata form. These ancient forms have been cultivated for many centuries, and include Nora, Blue, Black, Purple, Christa, and Rose Barlows.

Black Barlow’ is a particular favourite – an upright perennial, with grey-green divided leaves and distinctive, pompon-like, deep purple flowers in early spring and summer.  June-July. 90cm.

Aspect

  • South, North, east or West facing
  • Exposed or sheltered

Soil

  • Moist but well drained
  • Neutral, acid or alkaline
  • Loam, chalk, sand or clay

Propagation

  • Propogate by seed sown in pots in a cold frame as soon as seed is ripe or in spring
  • They can also be propagated by division in spring but the plant will be slow to recover

Suggested planting locations and garden types

  • Cottage/informal garden, flower borders and beds
  • They make excellent cut flowers if picked when half open

Though all columbines want well-drained soil, other cultivation needs vary with variety. A. alpina (alpine) types, which grow in mountainside scree, prefer a rich, gritty soil. A. caerulea, which grow naturally on mountainsides and in arid landscapes, can survive in sandy, poor soil, though they thrive in garden loam with a little more water than their native habitat offers. Caerulea varieties tolerate more sun than our native A. canadensis, which is predominantly a woodland plant that likes dappled shade.

Images: ‘Nivea’ image courtesy of www.hardy-plant.org.uk / ‘Black Barlow’ image courtesy of www.botanus.com

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This entry was posted on Saturday, May 6th, 2017 at 11:04 am and is filed under Lost the plot. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.