The columbines showed up unannounced. Or rather, a columbine. The flower arrived on the wind, seeded itself, and grew in my garden to a height of about 36 inches. With its long, slender stalks and deep purple flowers, that first year it stood at the front of the border nodding its head all through April. The next spring there were two flowers, then four, and this year a circle of seven. The columbines have gathered under the pear tree and bow respectfully every time I walk past.
I think this is the best way to grow columbines—that is, to let them grow themselves. Over the years I’ve tried other approaches—sowing seed or buying transplants—but without much success. Aquilegia is a wildflower, and it wants to grow where it wants to grow.
But I would never say never. Among dozens of species and many more hybrids there is surely a columbine that will be happy in a slightly shady spot in your spring garden (if you live in USDA zones 3 to 9). Try a few varieties and see which return next spring.
Here are some of my favorite columbines:
How to Grow Columbines
Columbines are easy to start from seed (but be aware they probably will not flower until at least their second year of life). Keep soil moist after sowing seeds and be patient; it may take a month for seeds to germinate.
Whether you start with seeds or seedlings, follow these growing tips: Columbines prefer sheltered spots (their slender, elongated stalks need protection from wind) and partial sun.
Columbines: 5 to Buy
Columbines come in a rainbow of colors and and flowers range from ruffly to open-faced.
Dwarf Japanese Columbine
A 1-quart pot of Aquilegia Flabellata ‘Nana Alba’ is $6.95 from Sandy’s Plants.
Aquilegia ottonis ssp amaliae
Nora Barlow Columbine
Rocky Mountain Columbine
For more growing tips, see Columbines: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design in our curated guides to Perennials 101. For more of our favorite spring flowers, see:
- Garden Design 101: Guide to Perennials
- Foxgloves: A Field Guide
- 10 Ideas to Steal from English Cottage Gardens
N.B.: Featured photograph by Bob via Flickr.