A good old fashioned cottage-garden favourite. Although they appear dainty and delicate, most varieties are very tough, hardy and reliable in the garden. They love full sun but will also do well in partial shade.
Family: Ranunculaceae (buttercup)
Botanical Name: Aquilegia
Common Names: Columbine, granny's bonnet
Foliage: Grey to light-green, fern-like leaves. Deciduous.
Flowers: Graceful funnel-shaped flowers, often with a characteristic spur behind each petal. Available in a wide range of colours including white, pink, red and purple. Single, double or semi-double forms are available.
Flowering Period: Spring to late summer (June to September).
Soil: Moist but well-drained good garden soil. Not too dry.
Conditions: Best in full sun, will tollerate some shade.
Habit: Erect, bushy plants.
Type: Herbaceous perennial.
Origin: Europe, North America and Japan.
Hardiness: Hardy in most areas of the UK.
Easy to grow. Requiring very little care and attention once established, although they can be short lived. Aquilegia thrive best in shady borders in a moist but well-drained loam.
Effective in a mixed border and particularly good for naturalising in less formal areas. Smaller species are suitable for the rock garden.
Most forms provide excellent cut flowers.
Water copiously in dry summer weather. Dead head regularly to prolong the flowering season. Leave a few heads on the plant if you want it to self-seed or collect the seed as soon as it is ripe for sowing elsewhere.
Cut down spent flower stalks in the autumn and leave the foliage to die back naturally.
Susceptible to attack by leaf miners. Aphids may be a problem in spring. Can be affected by leaf-spot fungus and rust.
Easy to grow from seed. Sow outside in April or May. Do not cover seeds as light is needed for germination. Established clumps can also be divided into single rooted pieces in the autumn.
A prolific self seeder that will often produce some interesting surprises. Seedlings from named varieties and hybrids will eventually revert back to their smaller parent forms.
There are a wide range of cultivars and hybrids available from medium to dwarf height. Some popular forms include:
A. alpina (Switzerland) a dainty,
compact plant with divided green
leaves and large rich blue or white flowers,
with long incurving spurs, in spring/summer. Height 2ft (60cm), spread 1ft (30cm).
A. canadensis (Canada, United States) an erect form with fern-like greyish green foliage. It has strong straight stems of largish nodding flowers, with red sepals, yellow petals and straight red spurs. Height 1.5-2ft (45-60cm), spread 1ft (30cm).
A. flabellata a dwarf form with white to violet-blue flowers from spring to summer. Height to 10in (25cm).
A. vulgaris hybrids are available in a range of colours. Several good double flower forms are available, including 'Nora Barlow', in plum red to pink and green. Height from 1.5ft to 3ft (45-60cm).