On a Chalk Hillside October 2022

Published: October 4, 2022

Posted on 04.10.2022 |
Added in Sheila May's Blog

Variations in my self sown Aquilegias
In May I mentioned that I have a lot of in the garden and that I leave their seedheads so they can self-seed and hybridize, just removing the dirty pale pink ones that are sometimes thrown up, trying to keep the darker ones only like the ones shown in the picture in the Orchard from 23 May 21:- 

aquilegiainseaofbuttercups 23

In this article I am going to talk about the aquilegias that I have in the garden now – almost all self-sown either in this garden or the gardens of other friends and family, and collected by me as little plants if from other gardens and brought here to be naturalised in the orchard, or wildflower meadow.    

We had aquilegias in our London home, some of which we brought with us when we moved,  as well as finding several patches of aquilegias in our Chalk Hillside garden.  When we first moved here there were two patches of Aquilegia vulgaris very similar to the picture above in colour and flower shape underneath an apple tree further down the orchard (this plant in under a plum tree).  This colour is my favourite, I think, and I also prefer this flower shape to the smaller tighter ones which look pinched and fussier to my mind, or the long spurred flowers that the American breeders produced.   Having said that, when we moved from London I brought a couple of pale yellow flowered long spurred aquilegia plants I had grown from seed with me.  I planted them under the Forsythia in the top part of the garden, and they have long since vanished.  

Although this article is about self-seeded aquilegias over the years I have also purchased and planted in the top garden both Aquilegia ‘Strawberries and Cream”'– under the Rosa ‘Canary Bird', and Aquilegia ‘Magpie' (which I tend to call Aquilegia ‘Guinness', though technically the synonym is ‘William Guinness') which started next to ‘Strawberries and Cream', and which has been relocated into a semi hospital bed on the Chalk Hillside – as you can see from May this year:-

aquilegia magpie 34
aquilegia magpie1 61

As you can see Magpie is more of a bell shaped flower, whereas ‘Strawberries and cream' looks more like the sort of pleated cover that used to be knitted to cover toilet rolls in the more polite households:-

strawberryicecream 80

I don't know whether this is a variable cultivar, but in my friends garden their clump looked like this in mid-May 2018, which as you can see is a different flower shape:-

a strawberries and cream 39

The original ‘Strawberries and Cream' plant in my garden suddenly didn't reappear two springs ago, but by the pond self seeded into the path are:-

muddyoutercreaminner 97

Which is the nearest to it in colour way, and :-

offspringofstrawberriesandcream 94

Which is the nearer to it in shape.  Both taken mid May this year.  The two tone one is perilously close to ‘dirty' pink on the outside though…….  Further down the garden in the orchard there is another two tone one – a small flower, very pale blue and white, pardon the blurry photo:-

twotonemauve 7 1

As the A. ‘Magpie' is further down the garden also, I am assuming that some of the genes in this one may come from ‘Magpie', but as you can see it is not really clearly regular different colours, as with ‘Magpie', more of an ombre effect on some petals, and its flower shape is more of the small and frilly type like ‘Strawberries and Cream' rather than the lantern that ‘Magpie' has.  A more near colourway, but not flower shape is the following clump:- 

a magpieornot 0

This appeared under the pear trees near to the A. ‘Strawberries and Cream', and where the A. ‘Magpie' used to be (photographed in 2018) – so does it have bits of both as parents?  Much like the ‘Strawberries and Cream' it lasted a few years, then didn't reappear – it was in a very shady part of the bed, that got shadier and shadier, which may not have helped.

Just to further muddy the waters, I have also seen A. ‘William Guinness' in double form in one person's garden – here taken in 2018 as well:-

a mapieornorabarlowseries 20

Here are a futher selection of some of the other self-seeded aquilegia round my garden taken mid May mainly this year, to show you some of the different colour and flower shapes.  I don't think I have managed to convey that some plants and stems are up to twice the height of others, as well as some flowers being much bigger than the tight frilly type of flower.

Almost white with a pink blush occasionally:-

almostwhite 81

A border-line ‘Muddy Pink' growing through one of our benches…..:-

borderline 39

My darkest clump taken on 15 May 20:-

verydarkaquilegia 80

This one is slightly less dark purple/black:-

halfwaybetweenpurpleanddark 100

Here we have a beautiful shape of flower in deep plum:-

lovelyshapeplum 41

Further up the orchard, the same colour, but a much smaller tighter more frilly flower on a much shorter stem (please excuse the blurry photo – it was a very windy day) :-

tightplum 42

Nearby a very similar tight-pleated shape, but two different colours (2018):-

a norabarlowlightanddarkseedlings from magpie 51

One of my favourite colourways – I call it indigo – in two different flower shapes – first the pleated crinoline-type:-

a crinklyindigocolour 21

And then, in my preferred lantern-shape (may2):-

a lanternindigocolourup 24

A clump of muddy pink that will be being chopped back/removed so they don't set seed:-

palepink 73

This is what I think of as a ‘classic' aquiliegia (ie its my favourite!!)– mid blue/purple, with a lantern shape :-

purplewitheuphorbia 58

Similar colourway, but a more crinkled flower shape from 2020:-

alilaccrinklyshort 34

And slightly darker and definitely more pleated, also from 2020:-

crinklypurpleaquilegia 57

I first really noticed aquilegia on my first visit to Sissinghurst as a 20something new gardener – they were filling one of the borders as you went in, with a brick wall behind it, and looked very impressive – lots of purple.  As you can see in many of my photos above I try and pair aquilegia with the citrus green of euphorbia if I am putting them in a bed.  I think the flower shows well against either the dark green of spring grass, or the citrus green of euphorbia.  Then you have still got the colour of the background whilst the seedheads of aquilegia ripen.  I should say I now never collect the seed, I just leave the seedheads to ripen and disperse their contents by themselves.  I only intervene if they self seed into the paths when I dig them up and relocate them, or in amongst the lavender hedge for example.  

In this garden on thin chalk aquilegia are good do-ers as they have very big thick woody taproots that go down into the chalk and find any moisture they can.  This works well with the less deep roots of the grass in the orchard, and means the aquilegia can be planted close to the trunks of the fruit trees and compete successfully with them for the moisture.  It also means, unlike the orchids I talked about last month, they can cope with being mown when the orchard grass is mown, and will grow back if not mown too frequently.  As they are planted in association with daffodil bulbs in the orchard, they usually get to grow and flower before there is any danger of himself mowing the grass where the bulb leaves are dying back naturally.  If they are in flower when he mows he (sometimes remembers) to mow round them and leave them to go to seed.  

Next time, drought in my garden – winners and losers.

Sheila May

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