Aquilegia 'Munstead White' is a handsome and vigorous form, reputed to have been specially selected by early twentieth-century garden writer and designer Gertrude Jekyll in her garden at Munstead Wood in Surrey, England.
Her painter’s eye taught her that white flowers shine in shade, but tend to fade and disappoint in brighter light. Large pure-white, gracefully nodding bonnets with short spurs, each 4cm (1½in) wide are borne in great profusion on leafy stems. Blooming in late spring and early summer, the pure white blooms really lighten up a shady spot and look wonderful with cool greens and ferns.
Munstead White is an upright plant that will grow to 80cm (32in) tall. Their height is not the result of boisterous growth, but rather the exceptionally elegant and slender stems that carry the flowers.
The attractive divided foliage forms a basal clump of fresh apple-green, leafing up early in spring to make a lovely foil for bulbs and early Primroses in the garden. They start pushing up flowering stems as early as April and go on producing a sequence of blooms until early June. The abundant, bee-pleasing flowers are 5cm (2in) in width, each with short, curled spurs are produced in in May, a month when flowers tend to be in short supply.
All aquilegias are easy to grow and, being a herbaceous perennial, they come back year after year without any attention or horticultural care needed. Aquilegia are naturally happier in the half shade of woodland edge or shaded grassland, which in normal garden terms translates to the lee of a shrub or the middle of a border. They are deep rooted plants which seek water well and are therefore tolerant of dry shady conditions as well as full sun.
Aquilegia 'Munstead White' has been awarded the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
Sowing: Sow February to June or September to October.
Seeds can either be sown directly where they are to flower or can be sown into pots and grown on, before transplanting. Avoid the hottest and coldest parts of the year and sow in early spring to early summer or sow in autumn.
Find a cooler part of the garden that enjoys dappled shade. If you have plenty of seed start by sprinkling seeds straight onto the ground in late-summer. Rake so that the seeds are covered with a small amount of soil. The seeds will germinate by the following spring.
Aquilegias will self-sow into choice plants, so only sprinkle the seeds where it will not matter.
Sow seed on the surface of lightly firmed, seed compost in pots or trays. Cover seed with a light sprinkling of vermiculite. Stand the pot in water until the soil is moist and drain. Either use a plastic lid or seal container inside a polythene bag to keep the moisture in. Keep at 15 to 20°C (59 to 68°F).
After sowing, do not exclude light as this helps germination. Keep the surface of the compost moist but not waterlogged. Always stand the pots in water: never water on the top of seeds.
Expect germination within 2 to 3 weeks. Overwinter September sowings in a cold frame and plant out the following spring. When large enough to handle, transplant seedlings into 7.5cm (3in) pots or trays. Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10 to 15 days before planting out after all risk of frost, 30cm (12in) apart.
Feeding is unnecessary unless the soil is exceptionally poor. An aquilegia should not need staking, but an overfed plant will flop. Their rounded foliage is attractive, even in winter, but it looks much more impressive when given a late-autumn haircut. Cut the leaves right back and fresh foliage will appear.
When the flowers are finished, around the end of June, cut the stalks off and let the leaves do their stuff without the distraction of drying spikes of stem.
Lift and divide large clumps in early spring and apply a generous 5 to 7cm (2 to 3in) mulch of well-rotted manure or garden compost around the plant. Divided specimens may take some time to establish since they don’t like having their roots disturbed. Contact with the sap may cause skin irritation.
Columbines tend to cross-pollinate, hybridise, and self seed freely, creating new strains and colours. The formation of seeds will shorten the productive lifespan of the plant, so it is best to remove the spent flowers promptly. Columbines tend to lose vitality after 4 to 5 years and are best replaced at that time.
Cottage/Informal Garden, Borders and Beds. Shade Gardens.
Columbines in the wild are identified by species characteristics and often are endemic to a specific geographic area.
There are at least seventy species of Aquilegia, including Britain’s native Aquilegia vulgaris. Aquilegia vulgaris has been grown in gardens since the 13th century, when it first appears in illuminated manuscripts. It is the traditional Grannie’s Bonnets of the cottage garden.
Columbines (even those in the wild) will hybridise easily between species, many of those bought in nurseries are cultivars and are bred and sold for their showy blooms and hardiness.
In the late 19th century a florist call Douglas began to cross this with Aquilegia caerulea, canadense and chrysantha to begin the long-spurred hybrids that we know today under the name Aquilegia x hybrida. ‘Mrs Scott Eliot Strain’ was an early successful group which has been ‘superseded’ by ‘McKana’ Hybrids’.
The long-spurred hybrids are derived from crosses with A. caerulea, (coerulea.) introduced into British gardens from the Rocky Mountains in the 1860s, and hybrids with A. chrysantha from Arizona have widened the range of colours available.
The genus name Aquilegia comes from the Latin word aquil meaning eagle, in reference to the flower’s five spurs at the back of the flower that resemble an eagle’s talon.
The species name vulgaris simply means 'common', the most common form of the plant.
The common name, columbine, comes from the Latin columbinus, meaning 'dove-like'. If you up-end an aquilegia to reveal the spurs, they resemble birds feeding and 'Doves round a Dish', another common name, reflects this perfectly. The flower was often depicted in medieval paintings to represent the dove of peace.
The family name Ranunculus is a diminutive form of the Latin rana meaning 'little frog'; because many of its members grow in moist places.
This cultivar is named after Munstead Woods, the home of Gertrude Jekyll, 1843-1932.
'Miss' Jekyll, as she was known was probably the most respected gardener of her time, her influence on the art of gardening is evident throughout the world today. She designed about 400 gardens but, because so few survive and only a handful are accurately restored, it is by her books and articles that she is best remembered.
She taught the world the full craft and art of gardening. She appreciated the beauty of both natural and formal styles and explained the importance of structure, proportion, colour, scent and texture in gardens of almost any scale.
Her younger brother, the Reverend Walter Jekyll, was a friend of Robert Louis Stevenson, who borrowed the family name for his famous novel Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
Munstead is not a village, but simply an area of thickly wooded hills above the town of Godalming in Surrey. In the late C19 it became famous for the country houses built there, largely by Edwin Lutyens and largely under the sponsorship of Gertrude Jekyll.
Munstead Wood is Gertrude Jekyll's own house designed for her and completed in 1896. It is set in a large wooded garden developed by Jekyll over many years. The house was built of local Bargate sandstone and weathered tiles so that the house would not look 'new'. At Munstead Wood Lutyens's distinctive free Tudor style is already fully formed - though not fully worked out- in a kind of small-scale anticipation of the masterpieces of the next few years.
When they met, Lutyens was a young and relatively unknown architect; Jekyll an older unmarried woman who had turned from painting to garden design. It was an unlikely meeting of minds, but together they transformed garden and home design and left an enduring legacy. Munstead Wood is an iconic landmark of the Arts and Crafts movement.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 100mg Average Seed Count 65 Seeds Family Ranunculaceae Genus Aquilegia Species vulgaris var. alba Cultivar Munstead White Common Name Also known as 'Nivea' Other Common Names European Crowfoot, European Columbine, Granny's Bonnet Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Late Spring to Summer Height 60-90cm (24-28in) Spread 50cm (20in) Position Full Sun or Partial Shade. Germination 4 to 12 weeks