Aquilegias are traditional cottage garden plants, with delicate, nodding bell-shaped flowers and attractive foliage.
These reliable perennial plants, also known as columbine or granny’s bonnet, flower prolifically in May and June. With colours ranging from white through pale yellow to purples, blues and pinks, the flowers vary from singles to doubles and more unusual spurred varieties. Aquilegias make lovely cut flowers and the semi-evergreen foliage provides a good backdrop for other plants.
Take a look at our handy aquilegia grow guide, below.
Where to plant aquilegias
Aquilegias are woodland edge plants, so the best location is in partial shade in a fertile, moist but well-drained soil.
How to plant aquilegias
Dig over the soil, adding in leaf mould or garden compost, to improve drainage. Tease out the roots of pot-bound plants and firm into the planting hole, watering well.
Read our detailed guides to planting perennials.
Caring for aquilegias
Once your aquilegia plants are established, they need very little aftercare. For the best foliage display, cut back the summer growth in September for a late flush of new leaves that should last through the winter.
Cut flowering stems back after the blooms have faded, unless you want to collect the seed. Otherwise your chosen variety may become overcrowded with self-sown seedlings.
Aquilegias, like most perennials, will benefit from being lifted and divided every few years. This makes new, stronger plants and boosts their flowering potential.
Aquilegias will self-seed prolifically and cross-fertilise. You may end up with some unique variations in your own garden if you leave the plants to their own devices. Alternatively collect the seed by waiting till the pods have dried a little on the stem. Then cover with a paper bag and shake the dried seedheads to release the very tiny seeds.
Here, Alan Titchmarsh explains how to save seed from aquilegias:
Watch our video advice on sowing aquilegia seeds.
You can also propagate by division. Watch our video advice on how to divide perennials.
Aquilegias: problem solving
Aquilegia downy mildew is a fungal disease particular to these plants. This can spread very quickly given the right conditions – cool and damp. Leaves will show spreading yellow patches that cause the leaf to curl and turn brown, with a white growth on the underside of the leaf. The flowers look distorted and stalks and seed pods can develop brown blotches. There is no remedy apart from removing affected plants and burning them.
Great aquilegia varieties to grow
- Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Lime Sorbet’ – pale limey-white double flowers
- Aquilegia vulgaris var. stellata ‘Nora Barlow’ – one of the oldest varieties, named after Charles Darwin’s granddaughter, with pink, green and white petals
- Aquilegia alpina – an alpine variety with bright blue flowers, growing to 80cm
- Aquilegia fragrans – with pale cream flowers and pineapple scent, this species aquilegia comes from the Himalayan foothills of Pakistan, northern India and Kashmir
- Aquilegia viridiflora – a rare species aquilegia, with chocolate coloured flowers and long spurs
Find more great aquilegia varieties to grow