Single Packet of 500 Seeds
Grow this standout columbine variety, "Nora Barlow", from seed this season as an edging, rock garden species, or border plant. Unlike most columbines, Aquilegia vulgaris var. Stellata lacks the signature "spur" behind its flower heads, but makes up for it with multiple layers of narrow, concave petals... each of which is a rich deep shade of pink. The sepals at the back of the flowers are tipped with bright green, while the true petals are frosted with white. Tightly-bundled stamens bear bright yellow anthers and protrude to or beyond the forward-pointing, most central petals.
"Nora Barlow" is a clumping columbine with multiple graceful, leafy stems. The leaves themselves have deep, rounded scallops and the upper stems branch to support multiple nodding blooms 3/4" to 1" wide.
What's more interesting than this columbine's beauty? Its namesake, for starters. Charles Darwin's remarkable granddaughter Lady Emma Nora Barlow (1885 –1989) was both a botanist and geneticist at Cambridge. She also curated and made notes on her grandfather's work, particularly his writings on plants. While Lady Barlow's own professional focus was the primrose, contemporary botanists named a series of columbines "Barlow" to honor her achievements. Of course, "Nora Barlow" is the flagship. Cultivars in the "Barlow" series are the first columbine hybrids to bear multi-petaled, spurless flowers.
If you want more plants that attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds, but aren't nibbled by deer and rabbits, put columbines on your seed-shopping list. In spite of its hardiness, "Nora Barlow" is susceptible to leaf miners, aphids, caterpillars, and powdery mildew.
Columbines are excellent cut flowers and can last for up to two weeks in fresh floral arrangements. Immerse the stems in room temperature water as soon as you cut them; once in your kitchen, cut them again under running water before placing them in your desired containers.
Sowing the Seeds
While the seeds are slow to germinate, columbines are otherwise easy for the novice gardener to grow. We recommend a cold-stratification period of 4-6 weeks. For an in-depth look at growing columbines, visit our blog post on the topic.
Soil preparation: Remove all clumps and debris from the seedbeds
Sowing outside: Plant as soon as possible after your last spring frost
Sowing indoors: Start columbines in peat pots in a high-quality seedling mix. Columbines prefer alkaline soil, so while peat pots are preferable, peat in the soil must be balanced with lime
Seed depth: No more than 1/16" deep. Columbine seeds require sunlight to germinate. Scatter on top of or gently press into soil surface
Slow-germinating seeds should be planted two or three seeds to a space, since the lapse of time can allow rot to set in. Trim (don't pull) the least vigorous sprouts from each planting location. Always start with the freshest, highest-quality Aquilegia vulgaris var. Stellataseeds!
"Nora Barlow" columbines tolerate most well-drained soils but rich, fertile beds produce the best plants. We recommend providing them with consistent moisture in soils with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5.
This is sometimes marketed as a shade plant, and it looks great along the southernmost boundaries of a shady patch. Still, we recommend full sun unless you're in areas with exceptionally hot afternoons.
Aquilegia vulgaris var. Stellata are classified as perennials in USDA Growing Zones 3-9.
Germination & Growth
"Nora Barlow", like most other columbines, has a clumping base and tall stems with alternate leaves. Stems and flowers can double in the plant's second and third year. This a short-lived perennial, but through self-sowing older plants can replace themselves.
Days to germination: Somewhat slow; 14 to 28 days
Bloom period: Late spring through mid-summer; deadheading usually prolongs blooming
Plant height: 12 to 24 inches tall
Plant width: 12 to 18 inch spread
Recommended spacing: Seed, thin, or transplant at 18" intervals