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Plant Profile: Granny’s Bonnet/ Garden Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris)

With a name like “granny’s bonnet” this plant is bound to raise the curiosity of any gardener.  As one of 65 species of columbine, this is not the best known, but it is a fine garden plant and a common resident in a traditional English cottage garden. It gets its common name from the resemblance of the spreading petals to a bonnet. The short incurved spurs that end in small knobs give a unique charm to the flowers and make them particularly attractive when pressed and dried. Many cultivars and hybrids of A. vulgaris have been produced that are double, semi double, and spurless, but why anyone would want to breed away the spur is beyond my comprehension. Plants may be short lived but reseed and naturalize. Plant them far from other columbines as they readily hybridize.  The genus name, Aquilegia, comes from the Latin word aquila meaning eagle and perhaps refers to the resemblance of the spurs to the talons of an eagle. The specific epithet, vulgaris, is the Latin word meaning common.

Type: Herbaceous perennial

Bloom: 1 1/2 – 2″  blue short spurred flowers are borne on

Foliage: Attractive green foliage forms clump as well as adorns flower scapes. Leaves are divided twice into 3s (biternate).

Size: 1.5-3’ H x 1-2’ W

Light: Full sun to part shade

Soil: Average to rich, medium moist, well darined

Fertilizer: Apply complete fertilizer in spring.

Hardiness: Zones 3-8

Care: Remove blooming stems after flowering to encourage 2nd bloom.

Pests and Diseases: Borers; leaf miners can be a problem but if foliage is cut back when their tunnels appear in the leaves, it new mound will appear, non the worse for the experience.

Propagation: Fresh seed, but plants often not true because of tendency to hybridize; as seeds age germination becomes more difficult. Division in spring.

Companion Plants: Cranesbill (Geranium spp.), evening primroses, iris, peony, lupine, amsonia, and baptisia.

Outstanding Selection: Var. nivae (white flowers, 3’ tall).

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