A good year for the columbines

If there’s one flower that seems to be everywhere this year, it’s columbines. They are back in fashion, featured on TV at Chelsea, and practically any direction I walk in from my house takes me past a garden bursting with these glorious, cheery plants, and for me it’s been one of the year’s little delights.

Purple and white columbine

Purple and white columbine

There are many reasons I love this flower, but a major one is its multiple names – just as TS Eliot thought cats should, the columbine has three different names, all of which suit it very well.

The elegant Latin name Aquilegia suggests a refined, shapely plant, while the common name Columbine (inspired by the fact the petals resemble the silhouette of a dove, apparently) reflects its tranquility and grace.

Dark burgundy columbine

Dark burgundy columbine

Finally, the colloquial nickname I knew them by as a child, Granny’s Bonnets, captures perfectly their jaunty, sunny attitude.

They grow vigorously, and yet never seem to swamp gardens the way other prolific flowers do – and, as I’ve discovered from seeing them in so many gardens, they are highly promiscuous and cross-breed to produce a huge range of colours and petal shapes.

I’ve already praised the rich purple in an earlier post, but I also love the dark purple-red pictured above, the pretty pastel shades, and perhaps best of all (as it’s the one I grew in my garden a child), I love the pink and white version.

Pink and white columbine with spurs

Pink and white columbine with spurs

The one pictured above I particularly admired because of the long spurs bursting out the back of the petal – the little doves look like they’re about to take off into flight at any moment.

The white and cream varieties are also lovely – like this delicate example I captured in a shady spot.

White columbine

White columbine

To me, they are one of the quintessential cottage garden flowers – their tall shape makes them a perfect plant to slot in at the back of a bed, with attractive shamrock-style leaves massing around the base to help fill in those tricky background gaps – and with their spreading tendencies, you can (hopefully) rely on them to put on a good show every year.

So far, though, my new garden is not exactly bursting with aquilegia – I brought seeds from the old garden, stored them faithfully in the outhouse, and scattered them around liberally earlier this spring, but there are no signs of germination yet.

My seeds having let me down, I succumbed to garden centre temptation and bought a purple and white variety which settled in nicely, although having slung it into the first available gap, I could probably do with moving it somewhere more suitable next year.

The good news is that, at least I know there will always be more aquilegia to be planted, more colours to be sought out, and more hybrids to be made. I may even stoop to pinching a few seeds from my neighbouring gardens – especially that pink one with the spurs, perhaps…


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