Aquiring Aquilegias

Last spring I aquired a long-yearned for Red Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis. They are almost impossible to get hold of here.


It was lovely for a couple of weeks, then it disappeared, never to be seen again! So I have now bought some (rather expensive) seeds and sown them. Wish me luck!

(And any tips would be very welcome 🙂 ).

Then in the late summer I aquired some other Aquilegias from an online nursery that offered quite a selection, with great hopes for this spring.

Aquilegia chrysanta ‘Yellow Queen’


Aquilegia chrysanta ‘Rose Queen’


Rose Queen didn’t last for long, with only two flowers. The Yellow Queens were more successful, but I have decided they don’t fit into my garden… a little too exotic? I prefer the traditional Aquilegia vulgaris I think!

I also ordered Aquilegia alpina, a lovely blue one that is yet to flower(!), along with several Aquilegia caerulea ‘Crystal Star’, which are supposed to look like the yellow ones but are pure white… but this is what I got…


Very pretty, but not what I ordered. Never mind. It looks like Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Green Apples’, which I saw everywhere last year and didn’t feel tempted to buy. What do you think of her?

Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Nora Barlow’ was another purchase late last summer and I am glad to note it looks much nicer in real life than the pictures I had seen of it (although mine doesn’t do it justice either).


Finally, I planted up a tiny shade bed on the north side of the house last autumn and picked out a very pretty Semiaquilegia ecalcarata ‘Sugar Plum Fairy’


It has been flowering for about two weeks now and still has a couple of unopened buds. I can definitely recommend this as an accompaniment to Heuchera or Geraniums in the shade and will post about this new shade bed soon.

Have you grown any different Aquilegias either this year or in previous years?

54 thoughts on “Aquiring Aquilegias

  1. Aquilegia canadensis seeds so freely here I’ve been afraid to add any others. I would be tempted by your beautifully colored ‘Sugar Plum Fairy’ though.

    • I am puzzled that the A. canadensis is not more popular here in Europe. The Semiaquilegia is completely new to me, but having survived one winter and flowered so well I am hopeful it might spread too.

  2. We left some beautiful white and pale blue aquilegias behind in our last garden. In the new garden they are mostly the dark purple kind, but there are a couple of very pale pink flowered plants too. I hope your plants thrive and seed themselves artistically about the garden!

    • Thanks Sarah! Not many things do seed themselves, with the exception of the Aquilegia vulgaris, and now just a few of those lovely Linaria you sent me many moons ago! They love my rockery and I am so grateful for them when everything else is shrivelling in the heat and they barely wilt! 🙂

      • Good to hear that they’re doing well! I brought a plant with me from out old garden which is just about to come into flower, so I’m hoping for more seedlings next year.

  3. Cathy, your photos here are just stunning . You have collected some beautiful cultivars , and I hope they will keep getting better each year . Ours gave a good showing this year and now I’m letting the seeds develop . Aquilegia are some of my favorites in spring .

  4. Your red colombine is beautiful, I have never seen one like that. I gave up with Aquilegias after trying to grow some weedy “Magpie” and a pale variety. However, this year, left to themselves they are beautiful. Some have seeded around and I find the older plants produce stronger more impressive clumps. Amelia

    • If anyone around you grows them, try collecting some of their seed. I found the local ones thrive while the seed packets don’t always germinate. 🙂

  5. Now I’ve managed to get A. vulgaris to grow, I’ve been experimenting with some of the other species too. I always grow from seed, but you have to be patient and if they germinate late in the summer I’ve found it best to overwinter the small plants in pots and plant the following spring. Last year I grew A. viridiflora, a beautiful delicate plant with greeen and chocolate flowers, and A. skinneri – yet to flower. I’m trying others too, including some of the dwarf species which I’ll try in the alpine house first. I’m very tempted by your Semiaquilegia as I have a new shade area too!

    • I like the sound of the A. viridiflora. As I don’t have a greenhouse I will probably bring the Aquilegia indoors over winter anyway…. much too risky to plant them out when so young. But I must wait and see if they germinate anyway!

  6. What a collection of Aquilegias. Some look almost like dahlias! Our Aquilegias have gone over the years. We once have had quiet a variety. So, I love to see yours. All the best for the Red Columbine!

    • Thanks Uta! Some years there are not so many Aquilegias and then there are years like this one where they are absolutely everywhere!

  7. Aquilegia canadensis is native in central Texas, though it isn’t common here. You’ll have to come to Austin and visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, where I saw some of those columbines flowering on a recent visit.

    • I think a wildflower centre would be very popular here, although the meadows and roadsides around us do have a lot to offer. I have never seen aquilegias of any description growing wild here though.

  8. Beautiful, Cathy. I have acquired a few more over the past couple years. I have “Nora Barlow’, ‘Blue Barlow’, and what looks like a ‘Red Barlow’ but am not sure as I get them from garden sales with no markers. I was particularly pleased with one that has a burgundy outer and creamy yellow inner that looks like a miniature lantern -divine!
    My experience with A. canadensis is that they prefer well-drained, yet not dry, rocky sites in partial sun. I often see them tucked into the crevices of leaf mould in outcroppings of ledge, in deciduous forest, particularly maple, which would be neutral to slightly acidic pH. Hope this helps.

    • That is very helpful Eliza, thanks. I think the one I planted out last year probably died of thirst in one of the driest spots in my garden. I shall try them under the yew tree, where the soil is not quite so alkaline… if they germinate! 😉 I have seen a ‘Black’ Barlow that was quite strange as it was such a dark maroon it really did look almost black. The red one must be pretty. I think I prefer the lighter colours in general.

  9. Hi Cathy. Aquilegia seeds can be difficult sometimes. I’ve never grown your beautiful red one from seed but I have had success with several others here in the UK. This is what I do:
    1) Pop the unopened seed packet into a plastic bag then into the freezer for two weeks.
    2) Sow half the seeds in fresh compost in a brand new pot or seed tray and cover lightly with compost. New pots and fresh compost prevent seedlings damping off I find.
    3) Place on a windowsill indoors or in the greenhouse to germinate. Aquilegias need light. They germinate best at 18-21C then they can be moved to a cooler spot to grow on.
    Hopefully that will work for you too. If not you have the rest of the packet to try again!
    Best of Luck

    • Thank you very much Gillian! Unfortunately I have already sown the seeds without chilling them, but if they haven’t germinated by the autumn I shall just have to leave them outside for a while to chill in the winter. I wish I had a cooler spot for them now – even 21° would be nice as we are in the middle of a heatwave! Oh well, let’s see what happens! Thanks for the advice!

    • So kind of you to find a link for me – thanks again Gillian! This is useful as they do suggest chilling them if germination doesn’t occur, and then bringing them indoors again. 🙂

  10. I love aquilegias, the red one is gorgeous. Most years I grow one or two different kinds from seed. Eventually you end up with a Liquorice Allsorts selection, I love them all. Alliums and aquilegias are the stars of the May garden.

    • Until now my ‘growing aquilegias from seed’ involved taking a handful and throwing it up in the air at the top of the rockery! LOL! Most of my Alliums waited until June to flower this year and it has been far too warm for them so I may have to cut some and bring them indoors…

  11. I have grown several that seem to come back especially those in the Barlow series. My native Aquilegia canadensis is hard to grow for me and a couple returned this year. I need to find them some space in a part shade spot where they can be happy.

    • I think the A. canadensis needs a bit of moisture and shade, of which I have little most of the time! If these seeds germinate I will plant them in various different spots to see where they are happiest.

  12. I think those first three flowers are FASCINATING — I’ve never seen a flower that opens its “arms AND feet” before. It interests me that the last two flowers (or is it three…) are from the same family but have no “feet” showing… correct me if I’m wrong about them being all from the same family, please. 🙂

  13. I need to look for that semiaquilegia, I’ve never heard of it before and love it, thanks!
    This is the time of year when some of the woodland roads are lined with the aquilegia Canadensis. A very pretty plant and I guess we don’t realize how lucky we are to have it around. I’m not sure how I feel about the fully doubled ones like your green apple. I think the others have a much more graceful look.

    • Yes, another one that was supposedly ‘Crystal Star’ has also truned out to be Green Apples and I am not terribly impressed to be honest! But if I didn’t have any others I would probably adore it!….

  14. I love your header photo–poppies! Columbine is the state flower here in Colorado. Always had a love for it, especially finding a patch growing in the wild. I am not as venturesome as you with variety…I prefer the blue and white that looks like our sky and clouds—Columbine Aquilegia caerulea. The Latin name means eagle and refers to those talon-like spurs at the base of the flower. Did you know there are over 70 varieties of Columbine?

    • Hi Alice! It’s nice to experiment, but I do also like the blues and pale pinks best. I can imagine there are quite a lot of different ones… one for every sort of garden I imagine! Did you know that columbine is the Latin for pigeon? I have used my imagination as far as I can and still don’t see any likeness! LOL! I can see the connection to eagle talons though. 🙂

      • Pigeon…oh…my…I can’t see that either. Oxford English Dictionary gives this explanation (still can’t see it, but dove feels better) Late Middle English: from Old French colombine, from medieval Latin colombina (herba) ‘dovelike (plant)’, from Latin columba ‘dove’ (from the supposed resemblance of the flower to a cluster of five doves).

    • Yes, I also think it actually looks more like an epimedium than an aquilegia. I only planted it last autumn, so have no experience of it self-seeding. But I am hoping it will!

  15. Yes, I also think it actually looks more like an epimedium than an aquilegia. I only planted it last autumn, so have no experience of it self-seeding. But I am hoping it will!

    • The Yellow Queen flower later and longer than the others, so I think I will have to move them to a spot where they fit in better. I am growing to like them… Rose Queen was so lovely but so short-lived.

  16. Your red columbine is stunning. I’d never seen one before, but your post has inspired me to buy some seeds here and try it next spring (wish me luck!) I also adore your delicate little ‘Sugar Plum Fairy’ which will look great in my north facing garden bed.

    I never saw columbines until I moved to Europe and I fell in love straight away and was happy to see quite a few of the common ones in my garden. I have noticed that they sometimes take a summer or two to really get going in this climate, but once they establish themselves they spread well. I’ve added to the ones that were already in the garden and one that has grown well in our garden is Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Magpie’ which has unusual purplish-black and white flowers and grows really well in the shade. I also have planted an Aquilegia ‘Dove’ which is a bushy plant with masses of pretty white flowers and an Italian blue Aquilegia bertolonii. Next on my list is Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Pink Petticoat’, which is pretty and frilly and makes me smile.

    • Hi Marie. It’s good to hear that I can provide a few ideas for new plants for your garden. I like the sound of ‘Magpie’ and ‘Dove’. And ‘Frilly Petticoats’ describes the shape of aquilegia flowers so nicley! I bet they last through June in your climate. Mine are already faded. Have fun planting! 🙂

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