Most people are in love with the common columbine and what’s not to love? Aquilegias flower in late spring in that transitional period between spring and summer when there is lots going on but not quite on the same scale as the floriferous summer months.
All Aquilegias are easy to grow, seeding themselves everywhere and being a herbaceous perennial, they come back year after year without any attention or horticultural care needed. In traditional herbalism, columbine was considered sacred to Venus, carrying a posy it was said to arouse the affections of a loved one. It has also been known to be used to ease the pains of childbirth, not that it’s ever been proven to help.
Aquilegia are unfussy about soil and have the ability to grow perfectly happily in poorish conditions even in dry shade. They are best planted in a spot that gets sunshine for the first few hours in the morning and then is shaded by thickening foliage for the rest of the day. Direct sunlight and heat stunt its growth and singe the delicate leaves, which is a shame as the leaves also stay a good colour throughout most of the summer season too.
Although Aquilegias are herbaceous perennials, during a mild winter the leaves linger until Christmas time and new growth tentatively begins soon afterwards, with seedlings popping up all over the place. You do have to be a bit ruthless with the seedlings, as they have a habit of competing with other favoured plants. If you don’t weed them out you will soon be plagued be Aquilegia and not much else!
Although Aquilegias are easily recognised and are one of those plants that hybridise freely within the confines of every garden, they are still a valuable perennial for any sized garden. My favourite of all the Aquilegias has to be Ruby Port. These have, as the name suggests, a rich plum-coloured flower, multi-petalled with yellow stamens. Try planting amongst ferns and dicentra spectabilis for an impressive spring display. Other combinations can include drifting through a clump of ornamental grasses like stipa tenuissima. My favourite combination of all has to be Ruby Port planted with Anthriscus sylvestris “Ravenswing”, chuck in an allium or two and you’ve got a dramatic spring combination that just looks great throughout most of May.
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