Acquilegia or columbine is a perennial cottage garden plant originally found in meadows and woodlands. Known affectionately as ‘Granny’s Bonnet’ because the shape of the flower resembles the mob caps old women used to wear. They are a delicate but hardy addition to any garden and come in a wide variety of colours. Here is a short guide on how to grow them and some of my favourite varieties.
Acquilegias flower in early summer, from May to June and usefully fill the gap between the end of spring bulbs and the first summer flowers. They like fertile, slightly moist soil and will tolerate full sun or partial shade. These plants interbreed freely but the seedlings rarely resemble the parents, so in order to keep chosen varieties pure, prevent self-seeding by deadheading shortly after flowering.
Varieties of acquilegia
One of my favourite varieties and also one of the oldest is ‘Nora Barlow’, named after Charles Darwin’s grand-daughter, but recorded much earlier, in the 17th century. It has double flowers composed of many narrow, dull deep pink and pale green petals and grows to a height of around 80cm. ‘William Guinness’ has dark purple flowers with white centres. ‘Bluebird’ is a lovely variety with slightly nodding flowers of pale blue with white inner petals. ‘Dove’ is a compact, upright plant growing up to 50cm with pure white flowers sometimes tinged pink at the edges. Columbine ‘Origami Red and White’ grows up to 60cm tall and has crimson flowers with white inner petals. Aquilegia rockii produces flowers of an unusual dusky purple colour on slender stems. ‘Chrysantha’ is a showy variety with long-spurred yellow flowers.’ Jonesii’ is a dwarf alpine variety with blue or purple short-spurred flowers.
Acquilegia sibirica has lovely large clear blue short-spurred flowers and grows to a height of around 30cm. ‘Saximontana’, also known as ‘Rocky Mountain Columbine’ has smooth bluey-green foliage which contrasts with the flowers which range in colour from pale blue to violet and lavender to cream. ‘Green apples’ is a variety that has double flowers and no spurs. The flowers are an unusual lime green that turn cream with age. ‘Yabeana’ is a striking variety with flowers of deep ink blue. Acquilegia vulgaris is the real cottage garden favourite with stems of delicate lilac blue flowers.
Although best grown in the herbaceous border, acquilegias will live happily in garden planters as long as they are kept moist. Probably better when grouped together or placed with other specimen plants potted up on a patio. These truly lovely little plants have been long understated but have always been there in the background, very much a part of the English garden.
Jo Poultney is one of two people behind Garden Planters. I have an RHS general certificate in horticulture. Garden Planters source unusual outdoor and indoor planters, and other garden related gifts – whatever your taste, be it traditional, modern or just a bit quirky, we will have something for you. I believe garden planters are an integral part of any garden – they enhance the overall design and say a little something about the person to whom the garden belongs. If you would like to know more about Garden Planters, visit our website at http://www.gardenplantersshop.co.uk