Columbine flowers – Aquilegia
|A selection of Columbine flowers from my garden|
Once upon a time …
They are known to be one of the first wild flowers to be brought into gardens as cultivated plants. Even Pisanello used Aquilegia vulgaris in his 14th century painting of a Princess.
|Portrait of a Princess of the House of Este Musée du Louvre, Paris with columbine flowers in the background
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Watch the doves appear…
They were given the common name Columbine. That comes from the latin word ‘Columba’ which means dove as many of the flowers resembled a group of doves drinking together. Their other common name is Grannies Bonnets.
|a columbine bud|
|dove shaped spurs starting to form|
|The spurs are now more visible before it opens fully – featured on google plus|
Classic Cottage Garden Plants
The aquilegia’s are classic cottage garden plants. Furthermore they are plants that have stood the test of time.
They could be found in the front gardens of the farm labourers and tenants of the Victorian gentry estates. These workers didn’t have much time ‘garden’ and plants had to be able to look after themselves and primarily were grown to provide nectar for their bee hives.
|You can see the columbine dove shapes in all of these flowers|
The plants had to thrive on neglect as precious fertilizer was used on the vegetable plot in the back garden rather than on the flowers in the front garden.
|Aquilegia vulgaris / columbine flowers|
Cottage garden plants like aquilegia’s were ‘pass along’ plants and seeds that were shared between family, friends and neighbours. New plant strains were a luxury purchase only for those who lived in the ‘big Victorian country house up the road’ rather than their poor tenants.
I have to warn you that they do have some traits that could become problematic if you don’t deadhead the seed heads in time.
They are very promiscuous and will cross pollinate with all types of aquilegia’s and liberally share their offspring. I leave some of mine to self seed. Though some years I regret not cutting all the seed heads off as the seedlings can become like weeds.
Those seedlings are unpredictable and rarely come true from seed and the resulting off-spring will usually have different flower colours to the parent plants. It’s nice to get a few surprises! but just a few… not a whole flowerbed of them with the potential to smother everything else in the border.
They don’t particularly like root disturbance. So let them grow where they self sow as long as they are not over crowded.
Most of the plants I grow are varieties of Aquilegia vulgaris. They have more nectar rich flowers than many of the newer varieties but their flower colours are not stable and will change with each new generation of seedlings. There are a few strains that are stable and will produce the same offspring as the parent. One of those strains is called Aquilegia vulgaris var. stellata ‘Nora Barlow’. It has spurless (doveless) clusters of green, pink and white petals.
|Aquilegia vulgaris var. stellata ‘Nora Barlow’|
I’d almost forgotten that I had some of the Nora Barlow plants as this is the first year for them to flower. The greenfly find their stems very favourable too… but then that’s plenty of natural bird food for the many fledglings in the garden!
New to My Garden
|Aquilegia flabellata var. pumila f. kurilensis ‘Rosea’|
The newest additions to the garden in the past year have been some dwarf ones which were ‘pass along’ seedlings from a neighbour. As I’ve only had two flowers this year I’m not so sure if this new variety contains as much nectar as the vulgaris plant.
How to Sow From Seed
- Once the seed heads go brown and dry they will start to split open.
- That’s the best time to collect the seed.
- Don’t store the seeds but sow them immediately as they will germinate better in late summer.
- The viability of the aquilegia seeds deteriorates quickly compared to other seeds. So late summer sowing is much better for greater germination rates.
- Sprinkle the seeds over the ground here you want them to flower. Just mark the spot!
If you’ve never tried to grow these from seed then seek out a gardening friend and ask if you can have some of theirs … I’m sure they’ll have plenty!
|Columbine seed head forming on Aquilegia vulgaris|
- Transplant into their final flowering position as soon as possible. They have a tap root that develops very quickly and the plants detest root disturbance. Consequently that’s why self sown seedlings thrive so well.
For me I couldn’t do without these plants in the garden …nor could the bees.