Thursday, 19 March 2015

Anemanthele lessoniana

Anemanthele lessoniana - Pheasant's tail grass (syn. Stipa arundinacea) is a plant I would not be without, although I have only paid nodding attention to the present trend for grasses the ability of this grass to light up a winter's day makes it really worth while.

These pictures were taken on a cold but sunny March day a few years ago, I initially grew them in containers because of my damp shady conditions, but through their habit of seeding themselves around, they have proved themselves capable of thriving in the open ground; any errant seedlings are easily removed.
Growing to roughly a meter square they come easily from cold-sown seed like most perennials and the only maintenance they need is to comb out the dead foliage with your gloved hands in spring. I have seen pictures of them used as a repetitive theme at the front of a large herbaceous border and also planted en-mass on a bank side, both are equally effective. A native of New Zealand they are surprisingly hardy here in all but the severest of winters.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Independent Aquilegias.

Wandering round the garden, wrapped up against the freezing cold winds, one of the most welcome sights of things to come are the emerging Aquilegias, the young fern-like, feathery foliage is particularly attractive when covered in moisture or frost and is the promise of flowers in couple of months time. Aquilegias are despised by some and relegated to almost "weed" status because of their habit of seeding everywhere but for me these colourful plants are extremely useful in any garden especially where there is dry shade but paradoxically are not always easy to establish.

A cluster of seedlings

Direct sowing is probably the preferred method of propagation as they do have a tendency to suit themselves as to where they thrive. "Independent" in the title relates to the fact that, although there are several contenders, for me Aquilegias win the prize for being the most contrary, give them what the perceived wisdom deems ideal conditions and they disappear yet they will seed themselves into a dry crevice in deep shade and live a self perpetuating existence for years. Personally I cold sow in autumn or spring and plant out from 3" pots as soon as they are established.  

A clump of Ballerina Strain seedlings.
The main reason they can survive in dry conditions is because they are tap-rooted which although it has its pluses also has it drawbacks in that they are not too fond of being disturbed particularly when established. I noticed a collection of albeit young bare-rooted plants for sale recently and to be quite honest, and this is solely my opinion, I would not entertain them. We exploit bare-rooted planting of tap rooted plants with such things as cabbages and of course wallflowers which are both members of the Brassicaceae but Aquilegias and some of their relatives from the Ranunculaceae don't seem to lend themselves to this. A mature plant needs to be transplanted with as much of the surrounding soil attached as possible otherwise the chances of survival are slim.
A nice selection of colours from home collected seed.

Their other bad habit is of course that they are extremely promiscuous most are short lived but produce copious amounts of seed. Over the years, no matter what good intentions the grower may have, it becomes difficult to recognise any individual species as they tend to blend in to one another as they die off and reproduce producing a "Hybrid Swarm". There can however be some nice surprises when an exceptional seedling crops up.  

A really nice seedling which seems to have Aquilegia 'William Guinness' as one of its parents, the stems are actually quite dark.

Some named Aquilegia:

Aquilegia vulgaris 'William Guinness'
One of the most popular forms, sometimes known as "Magpie"

Aquilegia jonesii?
Seed acquired as Aquilegia jonesii but I think that it is more likely to be a hybrid between Aquilegia jonesii and Aquilegia saximontana. 

Aquilegia clematiflora
I don't know the origins of this variant of Aquilegia vulgaris but the clematis-like flowers are pretty and come in a selection of colours.

Aquilegia yabeana
Very hardy Japanese species, colours vary from the deep blue/purple pictured to lighter shades.

Aquilegia chrysantha

One of the American species used to develop long-spurred hybrids.

Meant to be Aquilegia alpina but looks more like Aquilegia caerulea
Aquilegia fragrans
Attractive fragrant plant from the Western Himalayas, very feathery foliage.

A couple of modern Hybrids:
Aquilegia × hybrida 'Pink Bonnets'

Aquilegia x hybrida F1 Songbird 'Bluebird'
Aquilegia formosa
This is, to the best of my knowledge, a freak mutation of Aquilegia formosa producing a double flower, unfortunately I was unable to save any seed and the plant died in the ensuing winter never having been entirely happy.

I hope you enjoyed this brief visit to the world of Aquilegias and that you are able to enjoy them to.