These beautiful plants are herbaceous perennials of the classic English cottage garden type and I find they grow quite well in Sydney's climate. They originated in Europe and the common species is Aquilegia vulgaris; there are many other species and numerous hybrids and cultivars. They belong to the Ranunculaceae family.
They have lovely rounded leaves a bit like maidenhair fern foliage, and around October they send up spires to around 40 - 80 cm tall with delightful nodding flowers that were often referred to as 'granny's bonnets' in olden times. There are single and double forms, some with very distinctive 'spurs' at the back of the flower. There are many coloured versions: including white, pinks, red, yellow, blue and dark plum; some are bi-coloured.
They like sun and good, well-drained soil; they need reasonable watering. The plants will last a few years before becoming a bit woody. They self-seed madly and there should always be some baby ones coming on - these can be transplanted quite successfully when they are young. To prolong the flower display, dead head the spent blooms.
I would never want to be without some Aquilegia in my garden, as they remind me of the time when I was determined to create a cottage garden - I have moved on, but I these graceful flowers still decorate my late spring garden. They are useful flowers for vases.