Sometimes known as columbines or granny’s bonnets, aquilegias are charming, old-fashioned cottage garden plants with bonnet-shaped flowers, often two-tone and with long graceful spurs. They come in a very wide range of colours, from white to pale pink and from dark purple to red.
Flowering in early summer, aquilegias fill the seasonal gap between the last of the spring bulbs and the first of the summer flowers. They self-seed readily, and look wonderful naturalised amongst shrubs and roses. However, the plants interbreed freely and seedlings rarely resemble the parents. If you’d rather avoid this, deadhead plants after flowering to prevent self-seeding.
Grow aquilegias from seed, or buy them as plants at the garden centre. Grow in fertile, moist but well-drained soil in sun to partial shade, in the middle of the border.
Lift and divide clumps every three to five years and mulch annually with well-rotted manure or compost.
Here are 10 beautiful aquilegias to grow.
Aquilegia ‘Adelaide Addison’
Aquilegia ‘Adelaide Addison’ has double, old-fashioned pleated flowers. Its two-tone flowers have purple-blue petals on the outside, while the inner petals are white, edged with blue.
Aquilegia viridiflora ‘Chocolate Soldier’
Aquilegia viridiflora ‘Chocolate Soldier’ is a striking and unusual aquilegia, with nodding, chocolate-coloured blooms from May to July. It’s a compact variety that looks good at the front of a border or in a rockery. Height: 35cm.
Aquilegia vulgaris var. stellata ‘Black Barlow’
Aquilegia vulgaris var. stellata ‘Black Barlow’ has double, spur-less purple-black flowers above fern-like leaves. A good choice for a contemporary look, it looks good with magenta-coloured flowers such as Geranium psilostemon or among grasses.
Aquilegia ‘Roundway Chocolate’
Aquilegia ‘Roundway Chocolate’ bears double flowers, which are an unusual chocolate brown/orange colour, above fern green foliage. Try combining it with red, yellow or orange flowers in a hot border or grow with other plants that have dark flowers or foliage.
Aquilegia ‘Strawberry Ice Cream’
Aquilegia ‘Strawberry Ice Cream’ is an eye-catching variety with very pretty flowers from May to July. The pleated, pink-lilac petals have white tips. It looks very pretty with hardy geraniums, peonies and philadelphus. Height: 90cm.
Aquilegia Mrs Scott-Elliot Hybrids
Aquilegia ‘Mrs Scott-Elliot Hybrids’ is a vigorous group of hybrids with mid-green, divided leaves and nodding, upright flowers in a variety of shades ranging from red to blue-white bicolours, in spring and early summer. Height: 90cm.
Aquilegia vulgaris ‘William Guinness’
Aquilegia vulgaris ‘William Guinness’ produces dramatic, purple-black flowers with contrasting white centres, from late spring and early summer above fern-like leaves. A good choice for a contemporary look, it looks great combined with Geranium phaeum and Alchemilla mollis. Height: 90cm.
Aquilegia chrysantha ‘Texas Yellow’
Aquilegia chrysantha ‘Texas Yellow’ bears an abundance of outward-facing, large, bright lemon-yellow flowers with long spurs in early summer. It also makes an excellent cut flower.
Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Warwick’
Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Warwick’ bears deep purple-red, double flowers from April to July. It looks good in a contemporary planting scheme, mixed with dark-flowered hardy geraniums, or white-flowered plants for contrast.
Aquilegia flabellata var. pumila
Originally hailing from Japan, Aquilegia flabellata var. pumila is a dwarf variety. It bears nodding, soft blue-purple flowers above a mound of glaucous, fan-shaped leaves. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it its prestigious Award of Garden Merit. Height: 30cm.