Growing aquilegias

Posted: Monday 21 May 2012
by James Alexander-Sinclair

Aquilegias are among my favourite plants, mainly because they are so ridiculously easy to grow.

Aquilegia clematifolia

A little later than usual, the aquilegias have started flowering. Hooray!

Aquilegias are among my favourite plants, mainly because they are so ridiculously easy to grow. Plant a few and they will spread themselves about (in a relatively restrained way - they are too elegant and well behaved to ever become a nuisance) and will regularly re-invent themselves in slightly different colour combinations.

The name aquilegia comes from the Latin for eagle, as the spurs at the back of the flowers look a little like the talons of an eagle. This is odd as the common name is columbine, which derives from the Latin for dove. Two birds with diametrically opposite views of each other!

The American varieties have much longer spurs, as they hold nectar and are designed to be pollinated by long-beaked hummingbirds (which are in slightly short supply here in the East Midlands). In all, there are about 70 different species but the very best, I think, are variations of the native European columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris and its happy horde of hybrids. Aquilegias cross breed very easily. For example, we planted an unnamed deep purply-red variety whose seed I pinched from a client’s garden; we now have soft blues, pinks and brick reds that have miraculously appeared. In many cases, the children are considerably lovelier than their parents.

As well as producing differently coloured progeny, aquilegias have different shaped flowers. For example the very popular ‘Norah Barlow’ (named after Charles Darwin’s granddaughter) has layers of plum red petals tipped with white, like the ruffles on a Flamenco dancer’s skirt. She, along with many other doubles, has so many petals that they have virtually lost their spurs - not brilliant for either bees or hummingbirds. Look out for some of the deep, dark and exotic varieties at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this week: they will be there. In particular ‘Ruby Port’, ‘William Guinness’ and ‘Green Apples’.

(The picture above shows Aquilegia clematiflora.)

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happymarion 21/05/2012 at 11:58

One of my tasks at the Bristol Bot. Garden recently was to pot up Semiaquilegia adoxoides, three to pot for our plant sale. I was allowed to take home any odd ones so i was delighted when two were spare, as I too love aquilegias. Of course mine were given a pot each and now one has a bud. After my self-sown bluebells and forget-me-nots have finished their show in my garden the aquilegias, quaking grass, poppies and mileum aureum - the golden grass , take their place. The aquilegias are particularly fine this year with lots od white ones. I have no idea where they have come from.

gardeningfantic 21/05/2012 at 18:00

i do not know either but i love them also.. my garden has them scattered all around.

donutsmrs 21/05/2012 at 20:16

I have these in my garden, I originally grew mine from seed and now they are scattered around the front garden. They look so delicate I really love them and they never disappoint.

oldchippy 21/05/2012 at 22:40

3 years ago I was building an extension on the back of someone's house,In the garden was a dark blue Aquilegia the owner gave me some seed and I broadcast them on ground that had not grown Aquilegias before,The next year I had lots of pink flowered Aquilegias no blue at all, last year I had just one dark blue and this year I have just one come up all the others are pink again, just goes to show you don't know what expect from seed.


April Jones 23/05/2012 at 07:16

So..... how do you grow them?
Is it best to collect the seed and sow straight away or early next year?
Or wait for them to self seed and spread... or divide?
Disappointed that the title 'Growing Aquilegias' did not tell me how to grow them!

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