Columbine – Aquilegia – Queen of the Rocky Mountain Garden

columbine - blue bird

Columbine, ‘Bluebird’ image courtesy Walter’s Gardens.

Aquilegia or Columbine – Spring-Blooming Cut Flower Favorite

Someone has said that “a flowerless yard in spring is a yard without a soul; but even one living flower in a solitary corner may redeem it.” If you have to choose one solitary flower, a Columbine (Aquilegia) might be a good flower to choose. Columbines grow wild in the Mountain areas of the Rocky Mountains so it has the zone-three native toughness of survivors. The extraordinary look of Columbine’s cup and spur flowers make it a favorite among gardeners. The long spurs also make it a favorite among hummingbirds for the spurs are full of rich nectar and the cups on the flower tops make a great landing pad for pollinators.

cup spur columbine aquilegia
The cup and spur of the columbine flower encourage nectar-drinking garden companions such as hummingbirds and honey bees.

Columbines reach a variety of heights, from the small Alpine Blue to the taller McKana hybrids. Every color possible can be enjoyed with Columbine. Many like the ‘White Dove’ or ‘Ruby Port’  or yellow Chrysanta, flowers are solid colors but most Aquilegia bloom in bi-colors.

bi-color perennial columbine
The unique shape and bi-color blossoms of columbines make them a must in the perennial garden

In high mountain gardens, Columbine performs better in a partial shade area for they will bloom longer, usually to the fourth-of-July, and their deeply divided foliage stays nicer. They also prefer growing in the coolness of the mountains because they require an eighth month cold period for the plants to be robust and flower. Columbines seeds also require this cold period before they will germinate.

honey bee inside white columbine
White Dove Columbine, photo courtesy Karen Matthews

Seed production by allowing the plant to self-seed is efficient and interesting. Columbine seeds cross pollinate way-too-easily so new starts don’t always resemble their parents but seedlings that naturalize are stronger and hardier plants.

Aquilegia is a short lived perennial due to its excessive seeding. The seed setting is what shortens the plants life and the Mother plant will lose its vibrant colors and appear muddy. To prolong the Mother’s life it is wise to trim it back before the seeds are set. These seeds pods can be saved and hand sprinkled or dried and spread into the fall garden. Here’s a short video to show produced by “Grow Your Own Heirlooms” that shows you how to save Columbine seeds to re-introduce into your garden:

columbine blossoms
Care must be taken to trim back the Mother plants blooms before it sets seed.

Columbines are extremely easy to grow. They like alkaline soils and once they are established become very drought tolerant. They are attractive in every type of garden. They are delightful in rock gardens, edging borders, and shade gardens or anywhere else that a burst of color would be appreciated.

Tall, with lovely foliage, this blue bird columbine is breathtaking in the spring garden. Photo courtesy Walters Gardens

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