In my garden Aquilegia hybridise and self seed with abandon. The colours and flower shapes vary from plant to plant, with pastel shades of deep mauve, plum, pink and pale blue dominating this year. Although based on a simple five-fold symmetry, the flowers are curiously complicated, with their skirts and spurs, bells and bonnets. These hybrids may be closely related to the wild Aquilegiavulgaris, but to me they are anything but vulgar.
These plants are strong growers, with flower stems held stiffly above the scalloped foliage. At 80 to 90cm they provide tall splashes of early summer colour in a shady garden. I try to remove the seed heads before they disperse, as they are very fertile and pop up everywhere.Many of the inevitable self-sown seedlings need weeding out before they swamp more delicate plants, but some pop up in surprisingly suitable places and can be left to add colour in a spot I wouldn’t have considered.
Aquilegias are surprisingly adaptable, growing in full sun in quite dry soil (such as the ones that have self sown on my Green Roof) as well as coping with quite heavy shade in my woodland garden, where they flower in May and June, when most shade-plants have started to go dormant.
Aquilegia have charms beyond their flower colour which should not be overlooked. The emerging spring leaves quickly form thick clusters of distinctive scalloped foliage. The stems are reddish, and the buds often coloured red and yellow. After flowering the seed heads are of interest too. Here are some photos of their non-floral charms: