Aquilegia: Eagles, Doves and Bonnets!

Pink Aquilegia vulgaris
The resemblance of the flower’s petals to doves with outstretched wings has given it the name ‘columbine’.

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.

16 thoughts on “Aquilegia: Eagles, Doves and Bonnets!

  1. They really are one of the loveliest flower forms, aren’t they? I didn’t know that the virus is more likely to take hold in damp conditions – we should be safe there too! I have noticed that my plants raised from seed don’t like to be too wet, so I will hold back on the watering.

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    1. I think the damp helps the spores to spread, so dry conditions should be good. (Though it’s always possible we’ve had a bit of it here in a wetter year! I shall follow your example and be careful not to water too much…)

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  2. These flowers are beautiful and I love the way you photographed them. Hope you can get them to bloom in your garden next year. I am not sure we have these flowers around here but I will be taking a trip to a Harry P Leu Botanical Gardens in Orlando in a month and I will try to find some of your flowers.

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    1. Thank you Syd! 🙂 I think you might find them with a different name…I’m sure I saw some on Google but can’t remember what they were called. Happy hunting! (And have a great day out at the gardens…that would be my idea of a world tour – visiting all the best gardens, hehe!)

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      1. It’s frustrating when these places are too far away. When I lived just outside Edinburgh, I used to spend a lot of time in the Royal Botanic gardens there – I really miss it now!

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    1. Well, it’s only in my own garden, so I can’t claim to be doing anything special. But there is a plant heritage society in the UK that tries to keep people growing plants that are at risk of dying out. What a good excuse for plant shopping, hehe! 🙂

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    1. I think the dry soil is making mine struggle – a lot of the flowers are smaller than usual. Maybe I’ll have to water them – I prefer not to do more watering than I really have to.

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    1. Thank you, Ama! I’m hoping to build up the number of columbines in the garden, so I’ll be sprinkling the seeds all around when they’re ready!

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