In case you may have wondered what last night's Purple Enigma post was all about, by now it should be quite obvious where that one came from!
These are more examples of the Columbine (Aquilegia sp.) we have blooming right now. The first shot is, of course, the Alpine Blue (Urban Oasis: Alpine Blue Columbine) that I posted last week ... it's really been putting out the blooms since then, and has even started to form its seed pods (visible in the upper right of the photo). We've got several varieties growing in different areas of the front garden and the woodland area, and even with their early appearance and subsequent die back during this year's unexpected cold spell, they've recovered admirably and are blooming profusely now (though the Alpines were the first to do so) and should be for a few more weeks.
Columbines are one of our favorites, but haven't always considered us their favorites ... we've had varied degrees of success with them over the years, and have finally decided that though they are considered perennial, they are really just a short-lived one and we can't count on them to return consistently in certain parts of the garden. From some research I've done on them, our hunch appears to be correct, and that the trick to always having Columbine return is to let the seeds fall near the parent plant, where they can become established plants that will return, even if the original one happens to die off after a few years. I also think that when we originally tried Columbine, we pampered them too much, planted them in too rich a soil where they didn't really want to thrive. Since then, we've been planting them in less fertile areas and have had much more success. I've just about concluded that they're one of those plants who just doesn't want the best soil, and actually prefers growing in less than optimal soil than other plants. No matter what, we've had much greater success with them the past few years, so we're just going to continue to let them stake out their territory where they are doing well.
The three shots shown here are from May 17, 2007 and illustrate three of the different varieties we have planted ... the first is, of course Aquilegia alpina, the second is a purple variety (species unknown) I got and planted last year, along with the third, the fiery crimson red of Aquilegia canadensis, which is one of my very favorite colours of Columbine.
You can also find them in other colours ranging from yellow (the closest to the wild version) to bi-color hybrids, to white, pink and other combinations. There's a whole sub-species of Columbine commonly referred to as the "Barlow" Columbine, which is a double blooming hybrid. We're not really fans of those because they just don't reflect the complex, yet elegant architecture of the single blooming species, and they're much less hardy than the basic Aquilegia species. The first Columbines we tried years ago were the "Black Barlow" (basically a very deep purple double bloom) and they were a major disappointment. They bloomed sporadically the first year, returned feebly the second, then disappeared completely from the garden. Since then, when we see "Barlows" in the garden centers, we just pass them by without thinking and aim for more reliable species such as the Alpine Blue and the Canadensis ... Oh Canada, it figures you'd have given us one of the best, most reliable species of Columbine!
Since our basic gardening philosophy could be described as Savage Cottage Style, we tend to avoid double-blooming hybrids of basic flowers and prefer to stay as purist as possible to the original species (though we do select snobbily among available colours!). What we've found (as I've alluded to previously) is that the closer you try to stay to the original species, the better results you can get and you end up with fewer plants either reverting to a less desirable form, or just plain fading away (e.g. fancy tulips and daffodils). In any case, every garden worth its salt should have some representative examples of Columbine somewhere ... so they can grace their stand with mid-to-late spring punches of colour, no matter which one you might choose to select!