European columbine – planting, care and tips

Flower of European columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris)
Flower of European columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris)

The European columbine also called common columbine is a popular perennial for the natural and cottage garden. If you heed these planting and care tips, Aquilegia vulgaris will feel good.

Profile of European columbine:

Scientific name: Aquilegia vulgaris

Plant family: buttercup family (Ranunculaceae)

Other names: common columbine, garden columbine, granny’s nightcap, granny’s bonnet

Sowing time: spring

Planting time: spring or autumn

Flowering period: May to June

Location: sunny to partially shaded

Soil quality: sandy to loamy, calcipholous, moderately nutritious, humus rich

These information are for temperate climate!

Use in: flower beds, bouquets, group planting, under planting, overgrowth, borders, cottage garden, flower garden, herb garden, natural garden, forest garden

Toxicity: toxic

Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 4 (-34 °C / -25 °F)

Bee and insect friendly: Yes

Plant characteristics and classification of European columbine

Plant order, origin and occurrence of European columbine

The European columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris), also known as common columbine or granny’s nightcap, is a native wild perennial from the genus Columbine. (Aquilegia) The member of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) naturally grows in sparse forests, on meadows and in bushes in western, central and Southern Europe to western Ukraine.

Characteristics of European columbine


Aquilegia vulgaris grows upright to around 40 to 70 centimeters (16 to 28 in) high. In the upper area, the stems are almost bare to glandless. The herbaceous perennial is multi-annual, but short-lived. But by self-seeding it spread even more often than the gardener wishes. Note that the perennial, like most buttercups, is poisonous.


The basal leaves of the common European have long stems and a double three-part leaf blade. The edges of the leaflets are usually three-edged or three-lobed. Along the largely bare stem there are occasionally simple and unstalked leaves. The top of the leaf blades is bluish green and glabrous, the underside hairy.


The nodding flowers of Aquilegia vulgaris form at the ends of the stem and its side branches. They open between May and June and are colored violet blue. They become 3 to 5 centimeters (1.2 to 2 in) wide and just as tall. The numerous yellow anthers hardly protrude from the perianth, the striking spurs on the underside of the flower grow up to 22 millimeters (0.86 in) long. The flowers are rich in nectar and therefore valuable for bees and bumblebees.


After successful pollination, narrow, cylindrical follicle fruits form. They contain the shiny black seeds.

European columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris)
European columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris)

European columbine – cultivation and care


The common columbine likes to be a bit cooler than its North American relatives. A place in partial shade is ideal, for example on the edge of the wood. If Aquilegia vulgaris is in a sunnier spot, the soil must be kept well moist.


It is vital that the soil is permeable, because waterlogging is not tolerated by the wild perennial. Aquilegia vulgaris tends to prefer a more calcareous, moderately nutrient-rich and moderately dry to fresh substrate.


A good time to plant the perennials is spring or autumn. Basically, Aquilegia vulgaris should be planted at a young stage if possible so that it can develop its pile-like roots unhindered. The recommended planting distance to the neighboring plants is about 30 centimeters (12 in).

Care / Watering / Fertilization / Pruning

If there is no rain, you have to water the European columbine regularly, even in shadier places. So that the wild perennial does not spread so quickly in the garden, it is best to cut the stems back before the seeds ripen – this will also make the perennial more durable. The pruning and an addition of compost also promote a second flowering in autumn.


Aquilegia vulgaris can be propagated by sowing, which the plant usually does by itself. The seeds germinate at temperatures around 20 °C / 68 °F. If you like, you can harvest the ripen seeds in autumn and sprinkle them at the desired location from mid-May on. Press the seeds only slighly into the soil.

Diseases and pests

If the common columbine is in a too dry and hot place, powdery mildew often forms on the leaves in summer. If there is heavy infestation, the perennials should be cut back. Rust fungi can also affect plants. You don’t need to worry about snails – they despise leaves and flowers.


Special winter protection is usually not necessary: Auilegia vulgaris is sufficiently hardy down to -34 °C / -25 °F.

Use in the garden

The European columbine looks particularly beautiful in the natural garden in front of trees and shrubs, but it also fits well in romantically planted herbaceous beds and cottage gardens. Suitable neighbors include rattle root, foxgloves, ferns and bleeding hearts.


There are now a large number of varieties of Aquilegia vulgaris. Here is a small selection:

  • ‘Alba’ blooms in pure white.
  • ‘Black Barlow’ looks quite mysterious with its black-violet flowers.
  • ‘Blue Barlow’ forms double flowers in a dark violet blue.
  • ‘Grandmothers Garden’ surprises with a colorful mix of colors.
  • ‘Mellow Yellow’ is adorned with yellow leaves and white flowers.
  • ‘Nora Barlow’ is an esteemed variety with double flowers. They glow pink with white-green tips.

Note: ‘Blue Barlow’ and ‘Nora Barlow’ are not bee friendly due ot their double flowers.

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