The flower with the conspicuous spur has many names in the vernacular due to its unusual flower shape: Gypsy bell, fool cap, pigeon flower, elf glove or Venus wagon. The latter alludes to the fact that the Akelei (Aquilegia) was ascribed a great love-promoting effect in the Middle Ages. To the type Akelei belongs approximately 120 types, that are native all on the northern hemisphere. While the species originating from North America often flower yellow or red and are pollinated by hummingbirds at their natural habitat, the ones originating from Europe and Asia usually have blue, violet, white or pink flowers and are very popular with insects.
Appearance and growth
Depending on the species and variety, the shrub belonging to the Ranunculaceae family grows to a height of between 15 and 90 centimetres. For example, the dwarf columbine ‘Ministar’ (Aquilegia flabellata var. pumila) grows rather low, while hybrids from the McKana group belong to the higher columbines. One of the most popular columbines is the common columbine ‘Nora Barlow’ (Aquilegia vulgaris) with its pompon-shaped, pink-coloured flowers, the tips of which are coloured white. The striking nodding flowers grow to three to five centimetres in size and appear from May to July in blue, blue-violet, yellow, blue-white, red and white. The leaves of the columbine form as early as March, with the young, light green foliage standing together like a rosette. The smooth or sometimes hairy, stable stem protrudes from the centre of the stem. Later, the foliage changes its coloration into a rich blue-green.
Location and soil
The columbine likes to stand sunny to semi-shade or in the wandering shade of woods or buildings. The hybrids are also suitable for sunny beds. The soil should be permeable, nutritious and moderately moist to humid. The columbine reacts somewhat sensitively to waterlogging. Whoever plants columbine in his garden should be aware that it is poisonous. Even the consumption of 20 grams of leaves causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, shortness of breath, heart problems and dizziness. The plant also contains irritants which can cause severe skin irritations such as burning, redness or blistering. In the wild, the native, blue-violet or pink flowering common columbine is protected.
The colourful perennial, which provides good cut flowers for wildflower bouquets, is also very suitable for small gardens. With their beautiful flowers, columbines are predestined for planting in romantic gardens, for example together with roses (Rosa) or bellflowers (Campanula). High species are particularly suitable for more humid locations at the edge of trees or in the open and can be combined with a variety of other shrubs. A beautiful contrast is created when the filigree plants are combined with large-leaved species such as purple bells (Heuchera) or Caucasus forget-me-not (Brunnera) according to the “timpani and harp” principle. Yellow-flowering species originating from America, such as the golden columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) or the yellow columbine (Aquilegia flavescens) prefer a drier, open habitat. Smaller species such as the mountain columbine (Aquilegia bertolonii) are also very suitable for the rock garden and the alpinum, but prefer to be sunny here. Since the foliage is not very attractive after flowering, it is best to sprinkle some columbines into a planting so that the foliage is later concealed by the other plants.
If you cut out the inflorescence after flowering in early summer and fertilize the plants afterwards, you will get a second pile in autumn. Particularly with the noble varieties, which are so popular in our gardens because of their mostly multicoloured flowers, it is advisable to cut off the flower stems immediately after flowering so that the plant does not multiply by self sowing. The most vital descendants usually return to their natural form and show the typical violet-blue blossom. Columbines form dense root networks, but do not cope well with the root competition of dominant woody plants such as birch and Norway maple. If there is no rain, you should therefore water the plants regularly even in shady locations under such shrubs so that they do not dry out.
The best time for sowing is spring. Afterwards this easy-care plant is self-sufficient.
Diseases and pests
Columbines like to be attacked by the columbine leaf wasp, which can eat whole plants within a very short time. The only thing that usually helps here is the use of insecticides or a complete pruning of the plants. Other possible problems are aphids, leaf miner moths, flower greening and powdery mildew.
In an interview with our store editor Dieke van Dieken, plant doctor René Wadas reveals his tips against aphids.Credits: Production: Folkert Siemens; Camera and Editing: Fabian Primsch
Columbines in the our store-Shop