Aquilegias, also known as columbines, are members of the Ranunculaceae, or buttercup family, named after Rana the frog. The May-flowering, hardy perennial aquilegias prefer cool, dappled shade (rather like frogs) and they grow in a range of soils, up to a height of around 18in (0,5m).
They often produce flowers with spurs full of nectar in both single and double forms. They set copious amounts of seed when happy and self-seed, rather too freely, often producing a range of different seedlings.
When to plant
Plant aquilegias in late-summer for flowers the following spring.
Where to plant
Tap-rooted plants such as aquilegias tolerate poor soil, but they need deep soil to thrive. Close to trees and shrubs is ideal.
How to plant
If you have plenty of aquilegias seed (from a gardening friend) start by sprinkling seeds straight onto the ground in late-summer. These will germinate by the following spring. However, aquilegias will self-sow into choice plants, so only sprinkle the seeds where it will not matter.
If it’s hard to find seed from someone’s garden, order three or four plants from a good nursery and plant those. They will soon multiply. If you want more, it is easier to scatter the mature seed on the ground, once the seedpods split slightly, than sowing seeds in pots.
Commercial packets of seeds are often not very successful because aquilegias have a short period of viability.
When it blooms
Aquilegias produce bee-pleasing flowers in May, a month when flowers tend to be in short supply.
Bees love aquilegias
May-flowering aquilegias provide good vertical accents in woodland settings. They are superb with tulips and Aliium ‘Purple Sensation’. They can also be used with hellebores and trollius to great effect.