AQUILEGIA – columbine

These short-lived perennials look delicate but are very hardy. Sometimes known as ‘granny’s bonnet’, they produce masses of airy blooms on slender stems from spring to early summer. The spurred flowers are excellent for cutting.

Suitable site and soil. Use in beds and borders or in the rock garden. Ideal for naturalizing in semi-shaded ‘woodland’ gardens, but they are equally happy in sunny locations. Plant in well-drained soil.

Cultivation and care. Plant out seedlings in autumn or spring. Water generously throughout the summer. Remove faded blooms to prolong flowering.

Propagation. Easy to grow from seed, indoors or out. Do not cover seeds with soil, as light is necessary for germination.

Recommended varieties. A. hybrida has long, spurred flowers in a wide range of colours. ‘Mrs Scott Elliot’ and ‘McKana Giant Hybrids’ are particularly good. A. vulgaris is the old-fashioned columbine with beautiful dark blue, violet, pink or white flowers, it grows to 60cm – 2ft. A. alpina, an ultra-hardy dwarf variety, is only 30cm – 12in tall with lovely clear blue flowers. A. longmima has scented yellow blooms borne on tall, slender stems. The flowers appear from June to September and require regular dead-heading.

Pests and diseases. Leaf miners may disfigure leaves. Spray with malathion in early, mid and late May (exact time may vary according to geographical location). Destroy infected leaves immediately – do not put them on a compost heap.


Collecting aquilegia seeds from your garden may produce some nice surprises. Seeds from large, colourful hybrids will eventually revert, to produce old-fashioned columbines, which are smaller and more dainty. Try it and see!

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