08 May 2010

My columbine collection

Carol, over at May Dreams Gardens, has been talking about her columbines, which makes me want to talk about MY columbine.

I'm a big columbine (Aquilegia) fan for several reasons. They're easy and adaptable, have gorgeous intricate flowers,  and are one of the few groups of plants that can do the whole range of red, yellow, blue and everything in between including brown, (almost) black, and green. Most of all, though, I love their promiscuous, self-seeding ways.

Regular readers may be beginning to realize that I am sort of obsessed with breeding plants. With most plants, you have carefully pollinate, then collect and grow seeds to get hybrids. But with columbine, just plant two varieties next to each other, and they'll do all the work: bees and humming birds will carry the pollen, and they'll seed the hybrid offspring around without any help from you. So, each year, when a new crop of seedlings comes into bloom, you just get to look through them and pick your favorites to let seed next year.

My current population of columbine is a combination of three groups of plants:

Aquilegia 'Perfumed Garden' which is my favorite commercial strain of columbine -- large flowers in a wide range of colors with a strong, honeysuckle scent. (Photo from Plant World Seeds)

Aquilegia 'Oranges and Lemons' which is a lovely range of oranges, reds, and yellows and theoretically is supposed to bloom all summer, though I haven't seen much rebloom on them yet. (Photo from Plant World Seeds)

Aquilegia viridiflora which has, I think, the most lovely shape of any columbine in the world, and also has a perfectly wonderful fresh, almost herbal scent. (My partner thinks they smell like Irish spring soap.) (Photo from B and T World Seeds)

These three have all been messing about in a most promiscuous fashion, so this year I have some lovely and interesting hybrids between them:
This one is, I think, a cross between 'Perfumed Garden' and A. viridiflora. The color is a little washed out, but the SCENT! It combines the honeysuckle smell of 'Perfumed Garden' and the fresh, herbal smell of A. viridiflora to great effect and is so strong I notice it just walking past. I hope some of the next generation keeps the fragrance, but has brighter colors and more of the shape of A. viridiflora.
This one combines the color of 'Oranges and Lemons' with the shape and scent of A. viridiflora. This has got to be one of the most elegant columbine flowers I've ever see -- such a sophisticated combination of yellow and purple-red, and what a perfect shape! I hope this one messes about with its more fragrant half-sister above, so I can combine these colors and perfect form with an even stronger, more wonderful scent.

By the way: If you are interested in growing more interesting, fragrant columbine next year, DO check out the selection from Plant World Seeds. They have a mind-boggling array of columbines unlike anything I've seen anywhere else. They are a UK company, but they ship to the US, and are well worth your time.


Carol Michel said...

Those are pretty! I suddenly need more columbines in my garden. Lots more...

Diana/ Garden on the Edge said...

Thanks for posting the seed company link. I had heard that a place in England sold seeds for fragrant columbine but hadn't found them. Fortunately Aquilegia is so easy to start from seed even I can do it. I'll have to mix some of these into my "collection."

Joseph said...

I hope you enjoy the seed selection! It is one of the most addictive catalogs I've found in a long time.

Mary C. said...

WOW. Columbine shave been growing on me since las tyear but I thought the only ones were the normal lavendar and white and the newere red and yellow mix. I will have to do some serious searching to see where I coudl find those here in California!

Joseph said...

Your best bet will probably to buy them as seeds -- as Diana says, columbine are extremely easy to start from seed, and since seeds are so light, it is inexpensive to order them from anywhere in the world.

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