Aquilegia: Eagles, Doves and Bonnets!

Aquilegias are popping up all over UK gardens at the moment and they are especially popular for informal and cottage gardens.

In this garden, and my previous garden in Scotland, I’ve had lots of aquilegias. Almost all have been the common Aquilegia vulgaris. They’ve interbred and self seeded all over the place and every year there have been surprises as new colours have appeared. (There have been new shapes  too, as double-flowered variants started to appear.)

Some years it has felt as if the aquilegias have almost taken over parts of the garden and they’ve filled it with delicate pinks, blues and dark purples. Having started with mostly pink or reddish-purple flowers, the blues seemed to arrive from nowhere. (A very welcome addition!) More recently, bi-coloured flowers started to appear – dark purple with white inner petals (similar to the strain ‘Magpie’) and red and pink mixtures.

The flower has a fair old variety of names too. ‘Aquilegia’ comes from the Latin for eagle, but there seems to be disagreement about whether it’s due to parts of the flower looking like an eagle’s talons, or because the petals look like wings. Personally, I think that the flowers look more like doves, so ‘columbine’ is a pretty good name for them. But then there’s the other common names – granny’s bonnet or granny’s nightcap – both of these suit the flower shape well too. So take your pick, the choice is yours! (Maybe you know the flower by an entirely different name…)

Aquilegia flowers
I wish these were in my garden – in the future maybe?

Whatever name you know this flower by, it makes a delightful subject to photograph. I love the graceful shapes created by the outstretched petals and the delicate (or sometimes quite bold) colours of the flowers.

Unfortunately, this year I don’t have as many aquilegias as I’ve had in previous years. Actually, as I’ve looked around, there seem to be very few now. I think that’s because there has been a lot of re-development of areas of the garden and many young plants have been lost during some serious weeding. And sometimes they will insist on getting themselves right up tight to weeds that have to come out – or else they unwisely entangle themselves with more precious plants and have to be removed.

(There is a disease – a new downy mildew of aquilegias – that has spread around the UK in recent years. However, I don’t think that’s likely because our climate is so dry. This mildew thrives in mild, damp conditions – you can read about it here .)

I will probably treat the aquilegia seedlings that do come up in the same way as I did the first ones that appeared in my previous garden. I was still very new to gardening then, and absolutely delighted that the aquilegias I’d planted had managed to self-sow around a border. I very carefully transplanted them into favourable positions and nurtured them as if they were something delicate – little did I know how easily they would spread themselves around the garden! Now, if I show them a little bit of that care again, perhaps I can build up a new population of aquilegias. Wish me luck!

Blue Aquilegia vulgaris (columbine)
Blue is one of the commoner columbine colours.