Posted by: gardenshf | May 7, 2012

Now Growing: Columbine

Cultivating delight — that’s what gardeners do.

Visitors to the Gardens at Heather Farm in Walnut Creek may not always be aware that their senses are heightened as they view the masses of color, texture and scent that greet them, and often the distinct characteristics of the flowers are overlooked.

As Georgia O’Keeffe once said, “Nobody sees a flower really — it is so small it takes time — and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”

While flowers bring joy to humans with their fragrance or color, their ultimate goal is to attract pollinators to ensure the reproduction of flowering plants, which they do with fragrance, color or structure. It’s fascinating to watch plump bees hover around tiny lavender flowers blooming or the dance of hummingbirds as they gather nectar from the garden’s many varieties of columbine.

Aquilegia, or columbine, has flowers that are “spur-shaped,” which means they have a hollow, slender, saclike appendage of a petal or sepal. These long spurs attract and are pollinated by hummingbirds, who reach into them to gather nectar.

Columbine or Aquilegia, which comes in many colors and sizes, reseeds itself readily and is certainly a welcomed traveler. Although it’s recommended for shady spots, it seems to be do well almost anywhere, growing as happily in the hot sun of our waterfall garden as in dry shade.

Growing in the rock garden is a deep purple and small Aquilegia alpina, about 12 inches high. One of the largest species is Aquilegia longissima. One of the largest in this variety, this creamy yellow columbine reaches a height of 3 feet when in full bloom.

Aquilegia longissima is a native of the Southwest that is a member of the Ranunculacea, or buttercup, family. While it is recommended for light shade and grows in these conditions at the garden, it also reseeds itself in sunny conditions. As with most areas at our garden, it receives a minimal amount of water.

After blooming, the seed pods can be cut back and saved for seeding in the fall, or opened and spread in the garden to reseed in place.


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