May. 11th, 2016

lblanchard: (swannfountain)
[This is an occasional series of postings inspired by Abigail Rorer, Mimpish Squinnies: Reginald Farrer's Short Guide to Worthless Plants. Rorer's book includes prints of fourteen plants Farrer considered worthless-- an interesting hybrid of botanically accurate and...different. You can see her work, including all fourteen mimpish squinnies, here: ]

Aquilegia, looks like 'McKana's Giant' to me, from the Garden Club of Philadelphia pocket garden
entry, "The Shoshone Circle of Life," in the 2016 Philadelphia Flower Show

Reginald Farrer was, in the main, very taken with Aquilegia, the columbine, although there were some he found miffy or mimpish as noted below. He warns, however, of their promiscuity.

From My Rock-Garden (1907):

Now that Ranunculus has been dealt with, Aquilegia clearly takes the next place, and for beauty might have had the first. The Columbines are a glorious proud family. But I wish they kept their pedigree in better order. More confusion, more inextricable and awful, reigns among Aquilegias than among any other race of alpines, until we reach Campanula and the Aeizoon Saxifrages. The Columbines seed with plebeian fecundity, and cross with one another to such an extent that there is no keeping a strain pure if there be any other kind of Columbine living within a ten-mile radius. Therefore it is always a speculation to buy seed, and a very risky speculation too, unless the seller is a man you know and trust. Even so, poor soul, neither he nor you can tell what may come of it. Again and again I have got seed of innumerable rare, valuable, interesting sorts ; and you should see the dingy weeds that have resulted. Then I was told that olympica and longi-cakarata never lost their purity, so that seed from them could be relied upon. Eagerly I bought some ; it germinated, like all Columbine seed, so thickly that one didn't know how to deal with it. However, the babies were potted up reverently, with an immense outlay in time and pots, and nice, carefully mixed soil. And, when they flowered, they were all very inferior forms of vulgaris ! For this reason then I shall not be able to tell you of any genuine experiences with these two species, with leptoceras, with arctica, with many another promising, exciting Columbine that one reads about and faithfully buys seed of, hoping against hope until the flowers have actually opened. Nor are grown plants always safe ; for some gardeners have dwarf consciences ; and I have seen a rather poor purple variety of vulgaris being shown at the Temple Show as A. alpina.

The Columbines, as a race, belong to the lower, lighter scrub of Alpine woods all along the great mountain chains of the northern world. In cultivation the rarer ones are confessedly a little difficult. The essential is to give them perfect, quick drainage, and then a soil both rich and light. They dislike, too, being battered by winds and weather while they are coming up. The best that we can do is to remember how they lodge and dodge behind bushes on their native hills when they can, and give them some such similar protection in the garden.

A. alpina (the true alpina) is unquestionably the most beautiful plant of the European Alps. When after long search I first sighted it among the brushwood on the Vorder Wellhorn, I gave a loud cry and fell prone. The loveliness of it simply takes you between the eyes and knocks you dizzy. The flowers, dancing high on airy stems, are of enormous size, most exquisitely, daintily balanced, and of a soft, melting blue quite impossible to describe a colour deep yet gentle, brilliant yet modest, perfectly clear and yet not flaunting. Sometimes the centre is white, but even this cannot increase the beauty of the blossom. A. alpina pervades the Alpine woods, always rare, but rather less so as you get towards the southern and eastern ranges. I believe that the Wellhorn is almost its only Oberland habitat, but I have seen it peering pleasantly at me from many copses on the eastern slope of the Arolla valley. In cultivation it wants a moderate amount of care probably more in the South of England than in this Alpine air and climate of Craven but is by no means to be reckoned among the most difficult species. Collected seed from the Alps is safe ; but the true species is by no means easy to get hold of, even in gardens whose catalogues boldly advertise it. As for A. pyrenaica, this is virtually a tiny form of alpina. Haerikeana and einseleana have been sent me by trustworthy people, and seem to answer, afar off, to their description. All I can say is, I don't care for them. I see in them little distinctness or superiority for gardening purposes. A. coerulea is perhaps the queen of the family, and I will not tire any one with hunting out epithets for this glorious plant, with its great delicate pale blue flowers, long-spurred, carried erect, with a centre of creamy white. Coerulea gives a pink form (and a white of which I have seed), and some lovely hybrids with Chrysantha, but is, itself, of no very brilliant constitution, if the truth is to be told. It is miffy, a little hard to reckon with and not always to be counted on for two successive seasons. But sound seed of it can easily be got ; and the plant is a thousand times worth growing, even if it has to be treated as a biennial. There is a quaint spurless form, like a wee Clematis, called stellata ; but this, though charming, quite pales before coerulea itself.

A. coerulia, North American Rock Garden Society, Delaware Valley Chapter display, "Grand
Teton Inspiration," Philadelphia Flower Show, March 10, 2016

A. glandulosa, the Siberian Columbine, is another gorgeous great blue creature with white centre. He carries his flowers half-pendent, and is rather less fairylike and more solidly splendid than coerulea. And, like coerulea, he has a bad reputation indeed, a worse one than the Rocky Mountain Columbine. At Forres, in Scotland, in Mr. Wiseman's garden, he grows and ramps about amazingly in a moist, cool, peaty soil, most creamy and delicious to the touch. But in dry southerly gardens he is very emphatically what a woman I know calls a 'Mimp.' You may say of him, as the shortsighted say of human life

' here to-day and gone tomorrow.'

With me he grows well ; and now I have a bed full of seedlings which seem wonderfully vigorous. From them I hope great things ; seedlings being so much more vigorous than bought plants, as from their birth they are busy adapting themselves to the place they grow in, instead of, like a poor bought plant, making vain efforts to take up the broken strand of life, and forget the place they came from.

A.flabellata is a queer, charming little Japanese, small in growth, with bright pale green leaves and fat, waxy flowers, either creamy white or pale blue with white centre. It blooms very early, and takes kindly to any cool garden soil. Another Japanese plant, from Saghalin and Hokkaido, is the spurless, dark A. ecalcarata. My stock looks very thriving and brilliant, but, until it flowers, I had better say no more, lest Nemesis hear me rashly boasting, and I find that all my ecalcaratas are really vulgaris. A. chrysaniha, the common golden-spurred Columbine, needs neither recommendation nor description. This and its numerous hybrids are goodtempered, delightful, and lovely plants for any garden, and for almost any part of it. Nor can I leave out the rare native plant, the single deep blue A. vulgaris, which peeps, here and there, from our Craven copses under the cliffs. The other forms, pink and purple and so forth, are not worth a place in the choice rock-garden ; and as for the double forms, horresco referens, they are ineffably frightful, denying every single beauty in which the Columbines are pre-eminent lightness, daintiness, form, and colour, and carriage. A. vulgaris nivea is not far, on the other hand, from being the loveliest of all white Columbines, and A . vulgaris wittmaniana is one of the parents of A. Stuarti. A. Stuarti has for its other parent glandulosa, and the result is a singularly beautiful little Columbine, as large as glandulosa in the flower, but rather smaller in growth. In habit and disposition it comes intermediate. It is more trustworthy and healthy than glandulosa, but less so than vulgaris. Lovely and vigorous as it is, for my own part I still prefer glandulosa, the species, to any raised garden-hybrid except Helenae

It has been some time since I grew any columbine. I recently discovered a cache of seeds, labeled "White Columbine for Laura," in my sister's handwriting, that's been in my freezer for a long time (given that my sister has been dead for almost five years). Perhaps I will sow them in June. I have always been partial to the dwarf A. flabellata 'nana alba' but the last time I grew it the "dwarves" were three feet all, possibly short for Thorin Oakinshield but awfully tall for a columbine. 


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