Nora Barlow is a modern name attached to this ancient type of "rose" columbine in which the sepals are doubled with an unusual greenish tinge. These types were illustrated in European herbals of the early seventeenth century and have been cultivated for over two hundred years.
The frilly pink & white double aquilegia `Nora Barlow', which has become popular recently, might suggest an equally frilly namesake. But not a bit of it: Emma Nora Barlow (December 22, 1885 - December 1989) was a formidable woman, who died at the age of 104. She was a granddaughter of Charles Darwin, about whom she wrote a book in the time she could spare from raising six children, gardening, looking after horses, bird-watching and running the local Girl Guides.
Having studied genetics at Cambridge, Nora Barlow enjoyed hybridising plants and, although she was not the originator of this unusual aquilegia variety, she grew it in her garden (although her taste was generally for plainer flowers) and gave some seeds to the nurseryman Alan Bloom who named his commercial stock after her. She also gave her house, The Orchard, to the University of Cambridge in 1962. New Hall College for women was founded on the land.
Flowering in early summer, aquilegias fill the seasonal gap between the last of the spring bulbs and the main flush of summer perennials. 'Nora Barlow' is one of the more interesting varieties, producing nodding, spur-less, almost spherical heads 2 to 3cm (1½in) in width, composed of many narrow, pink and pale green to white petals.
Growing to around 80cm (32in) tall when in flower, it is one of the most popular forms and is highly prized for its bright, cheerful flowers and graceful and upright habit.
Aquilegia 'Nora Barlow' 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.
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.
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 variant name stellata means 'like a star', referring to the star shaped flower heads.
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.
Emma Nora Barlow (née Darwin) (22 December 1885 – December 1989):
Emma Nora Barlow was the granddaughter of the British naturalist Charles Darwin, who edited and published previously unseen examples of her grandfather's work.
Nora Darwin (daughter of Horace Darwin and granddaughter of Charles Darwin) studied botany at Cambridge and was a student of William Bateson's 1906 course on 'variation and heredity', which he first named 'genetics' the same year (her notebook with lecture notes is in the Cambridge University Library).
She later recalled this experience: ''My first introduction to the whole subject [of genetics] ... was when William Bateson was giving what we called his Bible Class, in a remote lecture room, in the back of one of the colleges. It was outside the ordinary curriculum. It was a five or six o'clock lecture. And there he introduced a small set of people into the elements of the new Genetics. Mendelism was just coming in ... He was a brilliant lecturer and, of course, he had an entirely new view of ordinary heredity ... It was very inspiring indeed."
Following her marriage to Alan Barlow in 1911 and even after the birth of her six children (1912–1921), Nora Barlow continued to study the genetics of trimorphic species, visiting the John Innes Institute each summer until 1926 to examine the flowers that were grown for her there, and publishing the results of her work. She was among the founders of the Genetical Society in 1919 and attended its meetings regularly.
Her son, Professor Horace Barlow (Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, Cambridge University) recalls that when he was a child his mother did "...controlled pollinations of flowers that spent their time in muslin bags. She also went to meetings of the Genetics Society, and kept up with genetical friends such as R. A. Fisher — in fact we had at least one dog that was the result of one of his genetical experiments. But I don't think any of this resulted in any publications on genetics"
At her memorial service in 1989, Alex Pankhurst recognised her scientific interests: "Nora studied genetics at Cambridge, and remained fascinated by the subject. From early on she tried her hand at hybridising various flowers, including aquilegias — her experiments indicated by little muslin bags over the flower heads. On one occasion, however, she unwisely showed her children how to break off an aquilegias spur and suck out the honey. Thereafter quite a few of her experiments were tampered with."
Today, Nora Barlow is best remembered for her pioneering editing of her grandfather's scientific and autobiographical works.
Charles Darwin's Autobiography was first published in 1887, five years after his death. It was a bowdlerised edition (*see below). Darwin's family, attempting to protect his posthumous reputation, had deleted all the passages they considered too personal or controversial. The present complete edition did not appear until 1959, one hundred years after the publication of The Origin of Species . Upon its appearance, Loren Eiseley wrote:
"No man can pretend to know Darwin who does not know his autobiography. Here, for the first time since his death, it is presented complete and unexpurgated, as it exists in the family archives. It will prove invaluable to biographers and cast new light on the personality of one of the world's greatest scientists. Nora Barlow, Darwin's granddaughter, has proved herself a superb editor. Her own annotations make fascinating reading."
The daring and restless mind, the integrity and simplicity of Darwin's character are revealed in this direct and personal account of his life, his family, his education, his explorations of the natural world, his religion and philosophy. The editor has provided page and line references to the more important restored passages, and previously unpublished notes and letters on family matters and on the controversy between Samuel Butler appear in an appendix.
*The word bowdlerise means 'To remove material that is considered offensive or objectionable' from a book, (for example). After Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), who published an expurgated edition of Shakespeare in 1818.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 200mg Average Seed Count 100 Seeds Family Ranunculaceae Genus Aquilegia Species var. stellata Cultivar Nora Barlow Common Name Clematis Flowered or Rose Columbine. Other Common Names European Columbine or Crowfoot, Granny's Bonnet Other Language Names IR. Colaimbín Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Spring to Summer Height 60-80cm (24-32in) Spread 30-38cm (12-15in) Position Full Sun or Partial Shade. Germination 4 to 12 weeks