Rainbow columbines

June 21st, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Multicoloured Aquilegia

If you’re from my generation, you were probably taught Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain. Younger readers may know Really Offensive Youtube Games Built Into Videos. It’s the colours of the rainbow, and why is this of interest here today? Because columbines (aquilegias) are one of the few plants whose flowers come in all the rainbow colours: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.

OK, you’re right, we don’t often come across orange columbines, the green is more of a green-tinted white and the options down at the violet end are a little thin. But the compensation is that so many of the flowers are bicolours, the outer petals in one colour and the inner petals in another. There are also some unexpected intermediate shades including chocolate brown.

And why are we talking about this as the flowers are starting to go over? Because it’s seed sowing time. In fact we’re getting towards the end of the optimal sowing period for flowering late next spring and early next summer. So let’s get to it.

All aquilegias are grown from seed, but they can be divided into two types according to how we go about it: there are those with a lot of seeds in a packet, such as ‘McKana Giant Mixed’ with 150 or those with fewer seeds in a packet such as ‘Lime Sorbet’ with 25.

We can sow those with plenty of seeds in a row outside in the garden, thin them out and transplant them to their final flowering sites in the autumn. Those with fewer seeds are better sown in pots and pricked out individually into 7cm or 9cm pots for autumn planting.

Me? I raise them all in pots, partly because at this time of year there’s hardly a bare piece of soil in the garden in which to sow them and also because I probably only want three plants of one variety and it’s just easier. Either way, if you haven’t got your columbine seeds in – get a move on.

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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