Friday, March 8, 2013

Consider Columbines

Today was relatively quite at the Horticulture Center although it was a nice sunny day with the snow starting to melt nicely.  Sounds like some rain over the weekend and possible snow again at the beginning of next week.  Dr. Gredler was in to paint some educational signs and is currently working on a new coat of paint for one of the larger, English cottage garden gates.  Pat M. continued more work on his obelisk project which includes some advanced preparations for the 2013 use of this feature in the Holiday Lights Show.  We also saw Big John with his new puppy, Maury and others.  Janice was in to work on some plant sale preparations too.  By the way, the vegetable and herb lists for the Spring Plant Sale (May 11th and 12th, pre-sale for RBG Members on the 10th) are on our website!  Check them out and get this annual sale on your calendar!  I was able to crunch through some other projects that will relate to our 2013 labeling, plant sales, tree sale, compost sale and other events.  

While not a new revelation for me, I continue to appreciate the importance of columbines (Aquilegia sp.) at RBG for spring impact in so many locations.  In terms of the most exquisite flowers on a perennial, I would consider columbine blooms to be in my top three favorite (along with irises and monkshood).  The spurred flower petals are quite showy whether the blooms are "danglers" like the native Canadian or Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) seen directly below are more upwards facing blooms like the hybrid (Aquilegia x hybrida) 'Origami Red & White' seen directly above.  The Latin derivation of Aquilegia translates to "eagle" as the blooms are thought to resemble the claws of an eagle.  Native to the Northern Hemisphere, there are thought to be between 60-70 species of columbine and I've been excited to see so many new hybrids that are focusing on a smaller stature or more upwards facing blooms.  Bees, hummingbirds and other pollinators enjoy columbine and I'm always taking photos of columbines when they are at peak.

The primary interest in columbines is in the May and June time frame and of course their "bloom window" is affected by the type of spring we're experiencing.  Last year, many columbines were peaking in April due to the advanced spring.  Some species (i.e. Aquilegia chrysantha) blooms a bit later with flowers well in to June and early July.  Regardless, the spring blooms are exquisite and exceptional with many flowers on a single plant.  There are some varieties that also have interesting foliage like 'Leprechaun Gold', 'Woodside Variegata' and 'Lime Frost' which all have showy, gold/green mottled foliage.  However, most species get a nice yellow fall color although Aquilegia canadensis seen below can get some nice reds and oranges on the October foliage (fourth photo down).  If you grow columbine, observe the daily progress of the foliage coming out of the ground and opening up (pretty cool)!

I've included many of my columbine shots below and apologize for those that I can't identify for certain.  We probably have 2,000+ columbines out in the gardens and many were un-labeled nursery donations at the end of the season.  We planted these in gaps throughout our shade garden, color rooms garden, gazebo garden and woodland walk garden.  Columbines have been the only genus of perennials that we've not insisted on knowing every variety (for labels) as we pack them in around the gardens.  Many are short-lived (a couple of years) but we've seen some re-seeding here and there and don't mind it.  We'll frequently cut off the spent flower stalks by early summer and leave the foliage for interest unless it's looking ratty.  Columbines that look  rough and unsightly by late summer can be cut to the ground and will be back next year as they'll stay dormant.  There are so many neat species, selections and varieties out there.  Hopefully the images below (identification under the photo) will encourage you to consider columbines in your garden!

Aquilegia canadensis
Aquilegia canadensis (close-up)
Aquilegia canadensis 'Little Lanterns'
Aquilegia canadensis (fall color)
Aquilegia canadensis 'Pink Lanterns'
Aquilegia canadensis 'Corbett'
'Dorothy Rose'
Aquilegia alpina
Aquilegia alpina (en masse)
Aquilegia chrysantha 'Denver Gold'
Aquilegia chrysantha 'Yellow Queen'
'Double Rose'
'William Guinness'
'Blue Barlow'
'Blue Barlow' opening
'Nora Barlow'
dwarf double pink (unknown variety)
unknown blue variety
unknown, tall, double pink variety in meadow

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