Add height and panache to garden borders with a range of Aquilegias. Many flowers are described as cottage garden classics, but few have as solid a claim to this status as Aquilegia vulgaris, or columbine or Grannys bonnet as it is variously known.
Recorded growing in domestic garden settings in writings such as John Gerards Herball (1595), and in art, A. vulgaris is our native columbine, but there are in fact 80 species of this herbaceous perennial. They are usually found growing at higher altitudes throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
The blooms come in a host of colours and have nodding pendant flowerheads that feature a bewildering but beautiful array of spurred petal formations. Pretty and delicate, aquilegia double varieties include Roundaway Chocolate (pictured).
Existing plants will self-seed, but will not replicate the parent plant exactly. If buying seeds, sow in a cold frame and transfer the seedlings out once the frosts have passed, or sow directly into the ground in March or April. Cut back after flowering to reduce the risk of mildew and support stronger flower growth the following year.
For easy, guaranteed results, use species such as Aquilegia chrysantha and A. canadensis, or simple first-generation garden varieties, including A. vulgaris William Guinness, which are reliable, sustainable and fairly indestructible. They also self-seed, unlike more complicated hybrids, says Terry Baker of The Botanic Nursery. The A. canadensis (pictured) is native to South America and the east coast of Canada and has beautiful bi-coloured flowers.
The plants habitually cross-fertilise, resulting in a mixture of shades and colours, such as Aquilegia vulgaris mixed pink.
The lengthy spurs and vigourous growth of north American species Aquilegia chrysantha make it a popular choice when botanists create new hybrids of the plants.
Aquilegia vulgaris (pictured) frequently self-seeds in a variety of colours and will probably not produce plants of the same shade.
“Aquilegia vulgaris varieties succeed in most gardens regardless of the quality and quantity of soil, the PH level or amount of shade. For a pretty effect, plant Aquilegia vulgaris var. stellata Nora Burlow with giant quaking grass, while William Guinness works with sweet cicely” says Carrie Thomas of Touchwood Plants & Seeds. Also striking when grown among the metallic-coloured Elaegnus Quicksilver, plant A. vulgaris William Guinness (pictured) in full sun or partial shade.
Arrange cut flowerheads in small glass vases and vintage jam jars for a pretty display on summer mantelpieces and informal dining tables.