Whether you know them as “Granny’s Bonnet” or “Columbine”, Aquilegia are a must in every garden as their early appearance in late spring heralds the arrival of the herbaceous perennial colour splashes into the garden.
The word aquilegia is derived from the Latin “aquila” meaning eagle. It is said that the petals when opening are shaped like an eagle’s claw. The Aquilegia family has approximately 60 or 70 species within it and, in their natural habitat, are found in woodlands and meadows. They are clump forming perennials which range in size from 20 cm to 1m tall. They are native to the northern hemisphere’s temperate regions, e.g. A buergeriana from Japan, A. fragrans from northern India, A. canadensis from North America or A. brevistyla from Alaska.
The species best know in Ireland is Aquilegia vulgaris; a fully hardy herbaceous perennial which can grow up to 1m in height and has a spread of about 50cm. It flowers in very late spring and early summer with a profusion of white, pink, red or purple flowers, some even two-tone, on tall stems above the grey-green leafy basal growth. A particular favourite is A. Nora Barlow; an elegant double red flower the tips of which are tinged with white/green. They do best in partial shade and need a rich but well drained soil. Aquilegia are known to self seed in the garden; some even describe them as promiscuous with their ability to produce offspring. If you don’t want to be inundated with seedlings; deadhead the spent flowers before they set seed.
Aquilegia is a must for any garden and is an ideal companion plant to both the late spring flowering bulbs such as allium or tulip as well as a herald to the summer flowering herbaceous perennials. It is also a great source of food for our beloved bee population. A cottage garden bed with aquilegia, lupin, delphinium and kniphofia followed by the later flowering rudbeckia and nerines will give you an abundant flower display throughout the summer months.