Common name: Columbine, Granny's bonnets
Aquilegia are quintessential cottage garden favourites often known as grannys bonnet or columbine. They are easy to grow and will self-seed so are great for naturalistic or wild gardens and informal spaces. A few species are suited to alpine areas and woodland gardens. The nectar-rich flowers are attractive to bumblebees.
Pretty rosettes of pale green or grey-tinged scalloped leaves produce flower stalks up to 60cm (2ft) tall in late spring and early summer with flowers in colours of bright reds and yellows as well as softer pinks, blues and whites. Some flowers have two different colours, others a single colour. The flowers can be very double and rounded or they can be elongated with long spurs and open faces, the most exaggerated being Aquilegia longissima.
Best suited to sunny or semi-shaded positions, aquilegia will grow on most soils but prefer not to dry out in summer. Some of the species, such as Aquilegia canadensis like cooler semi-shaded conditions near trees and shrubs while alpine species like Aquilegia laramiensis from the mountains of North America want an open, free-draining spot.
Avoid dry conditions in summer as this will encourage powdery mildew disease on the leaves. However, if this appears, cut off all the leaves, water, and fresh, unblemished foliage will grow. Plants can be short-lived on heavy, wet soils
Did you know?
Aquilegia can also be picked as cut flowers when they appear in the garden. For longer displays, sow seed in June/July and grown on through winter in individual 10cm (4in) pots in the protection of a coldframe - they can then be brought into a heated greenhouse or conservatory where they will come into bloom much earlier than in the garden. Use these as cut flowers or bring the pots into the house in early spring (March/April) to make temporary displays.
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