Aquilegia is a genus from the Ranunculaceae family and is also called columbine or granny’s bonnet.
The flowers have various colours: purple, pink, blue, red, yellow and white. The flowers may have one or two colours, single or double, with or without spurs, upward or downward. The flower stems will reach a height between 16 and 32 inches (40 and 80 cm). The leaves will grow to about 10 inches (25 cm).
The long tubes at the beginning of the flower (usually the top) are spurs. Usually only bumblebees can reach the nectar in the spurs because they have long tongues but bees just bite a hole in the spurs to get to the nectar. The European Aquilegia varieties have shorter spurs than the American varieties because the American varieties are visited by hummingbirds and they have an even longer tongue than bumblebees. Europe does not have hummingbirds. The American varieties are also less hardy than the European ones.
The flowers look very elegant and fragile. This is however a very tough plant with firm tuberous roots. If the plant brakes or you cut it to the ground it will grow new leaves. If you really want to remove the Aquilegia you have to remove it completely together with the root. The only reason why I sometimes remove a columbine is because they push other plants away. If they grow too close to another plant I relocate or remove them.
The roots of the Aquilegia run pretty deep and are quite fleshy which is why it is tolerant to drought but this makes it harder to relocate them. You have to dig deep to get the whole plant. It is easiest to relocate the plant while it is still small.
The columbine spreads easily through seeds. The plants that grow from the seeds do not necessarily have the same colour flower as the original plant. That will be a surprise every time. If you do not want the columbine to reproduce you can cut away the spent flowers before the seeds ripen. You can also let the seeds ripen and throw them in a spot in your garden where you do want new Aquilegia to grow. You can of course also let nature take its course and leave the seeds where they are and discover where new plants emerge next year.
The seeds start growing the next spring (they need a cold period) but they will not bloom the first year. In spring of the following year they will bloom.
Aquilegia is very suitable for a rock garden and as cut flower. The columbine does not like too much moist (especially in the winter) or heavy and poorly drained soil. The columbine does not last very long. Most of the time it acts as a biennial. This how I put it in the specifications. Because it spreads so easily through seed you will always have columbine in your garden.
Attracts bees: yes
Exposure: sun/ part shade
Flower colour: various
Flowering time: May – June
Foliage colour: green
Fragrant flower: no
Hardiness: -30 ºC (-22 ºF)
Height: 32 inches (80 cm)