Monday, 10 June 2013


Aquilegias, commonly called Columbines, are among our most popular garden perennials. They have garnered a number of popular names over the years and my maternal grandmother called them Curly Headed Boys, clearly a reference to the long, curling, nectar-secreting spurs on the flowers.

Pale pink Aquilegias in my garden. 2 June, 2013
White Aquilegia in the gardens of Canons Ashby House
2 June, 2013
They can be purchased in a range of colours and sizes but they are exceedingly promiscuous plants and seedlings will soon appear showing mixed parentage. I have a number of these chance hybrids in my garden - too many to be honest - and in truth many of them have wishy-washy flowers of a pale pink or purple colour with no great merit. As my picture shows, they have little impact. I do however cherish my specimens of Aquilegia alpina, a fairly low  (6-12 inches high) species which I grow in the rock garden. It has flourished there for several years and I must take save some seeds - hoping that they won't just produce more hybrids. I have lost my Aquilegia canadensis but I must try to replace it, as it is another lovely species. The very long-spurred forms I remember from my childhood don't seem to be often grown nowadays. On a recent visit to the gardens at Canons Ashby I was hoping to see some but all I found was this white form - attractive enough but with no great impact. More attractive was a hoverfly, Helophilus pendulus, basking on a flower nearby.
The hoverfly Helophilus pendulus at Canons Ashby
2 June, 2013

Aquilegia alpina in my garden. 2 June, 2013

The native Columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris, is still to be found in woodlands on limestone at the eastern end of our county, i.e. in parts of the once-extensive Rockingham Forest, but many "wild" plants will, on examination, found to be hybrids - a similar situation to that of our native Bluebell. The original native species now appears to be rare. It must have been relatively common in John Clare's time but he seems to be hinting at increasing scarcity when, in his Shepherd's Calendar he writes:

                      The Columbines....heaths still claim them,
                      Where yet they grow wild.

We should note that the word 'heath' as used by Clare, does not equate with the current usage - Columbine is not, nor ever has been, a heathland plant.

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